UBC research shows people more likely to lie when texting

Text messaging

Text messaging

In a recent study by the Sauder School of Business at University of British Columbia, researchers compare the level of deceit people are prepared to use in a variety of media, from text messages to face-to-face interactions.

“People are communicating using a growing range of methods, from Twitter to Skype. As new platforms of communication come online, it’s important to know the risks that may be involved”, says Sauder Assoc. Prof. Ronald Cenfetelli, a co-author on the paper.


“Our results confirm that the more anonymous the technology allows a person to be in a communications exchange, the more likely they are to become morally lax,” says Sauder Prof. Karl Aquino, also one of the co-authors.

The study brought 170 students together where they tested four different methods to perform mock stock transactions: face-to face, video, audio or text chatting. Researchers promised cash awards of up to $50 to increase participants involvement of the role play while brokers were promised increased cash rewards for more stock sales, while “buyers” were told their cash reward would depend on the yet-to-be-determined value of the stock.

Following the transactions, the researchers asked the buyers if the brokers used any trick tactics to sell their stock — when all said and done, the research found that those who used text message to communicate were 95 percent more likely to lie and bend the truth than if they had interacted via video, 31 percent more likely to report deception when compared to face-to-face, and 18 percent more likely if the interaction was via audio chat.

The results suggest that by communicating through video, the brokers would likely be scrutinized, which suppressed their impulse to use dishonest sales tactics — the so-called “spotlight” effect. The study also reveals that people deceived by “leaner” media, such as text messages are more angered by those misled by “richer” media, sucha s video chat.

The moral of this story is that for business, video conferencing or in-person interactions may be preferable to text-based communication (which in some cases may include email communication as well).

[via UBC: Sauder School of Business]