Liars likely to use texts to deceive

Dec. 21, 2011 at 1:31 PM ET

Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images file
(FILES)A woman sends text messages on June 25, 2008 on her Blackberry phone while commuting on the Metro from Washington, DC to the Virginia suburbs. Smartphone security experts said August 3, 2010 that plans to ban BlackBerry data service in the United Arab Emirates are a testiment to how hard it is to snoop on that network and raise concerns about other devices becoming targets. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER /FILES (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo Credit should Read /AFP/Getty Images)

In a recent social experiment at a university, a group of students given the opportunity to deceive classmates using various mediums of communication were more likely to lie through texts than any other interaction that involved more direct contact with others.

The study, done by researchers at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, involved 170 co-eds who performed mock stock deals using one of four methods: texting, face-to-face, audio or video chats.

They were split into groups of "brokers" and "buyers," each given real cash incentives to really get into their roles. Commissions figured prominently for brokers, while buyers' rewards were dependent on the value of their mock stock.

Here's where ethics came into play, and choices were made: Brokers had inside information about the mock stock losing its value, which buyers were not privy to until after the transaction. Once a deal was made, buyers were asked if their brokers "had employed deceit to sell their stock."

Guess what? If students didn't have to see their colleagues face-to-face, then it was more likely they were going to lie to them.

Researchers found deception in 83 percent of those who received text messages; audio chats were close behind at 71 percent. Then came face-to-face in-person contact, with 63.6 percent, and finally video chats, with 43 percent.

In an email to, Sauder associate professor Ronald Cenfetelli, a co-author on the paper, explained the discrepancy between video chats and face-to-face results.

It fits with the broader role that anonymity plays in lessening barriers to behaving badly. We suspect that video acts as a sort of "mirror" in enhancing a person's awareness of themselves. There is also the possibility that video is perceived to have some permanence (it is a recording that could be used for future reference).

May fit with the role video has played in protests/demonstrations.

In a statement released by the researchers, the fact that video chat seemed to be the least deceptive technique may indicate that "communicating by video heightened the brokers' awareness of being scrutinized, which suppressed their impulse to use dishonest sales tactics — the so-called 'spotlight' effect."

The research could be applied to online business transactions, especially during this holiday season. Cenfetelli said:

"With this in mind, people shopping online using websites like eBay should consider asking sellers to talk over Skype to ensure they are getting information in the most trustworthy way possible."

Especially susceptible to this may be teens, who are among the most avid texters, at least according to a recent Nielsen poll shows that the average teen girl receives and sends 4,000 texts a month

Take our poll and let us know if you think you're more likely to be lied to (or lie) via text vs. these other forms of communication.

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