Study shows people are more honest online, less so on the phone

Research by Cornell professor Jeff Hancock has shown that people are more honest when communicating electronically than they are in person, citing the paper trails that emails and text messages leave as a check on our penchant for deception.

According to Hancock’s research, we have developed new ways to lie that are exclusive to digital communication: We lie to shield us from the constant availability our phones and computers provide us (“Sorry I didn’t text you back, my phone died”), and we lie to embellish our public image (using a fake name to write a positive review of your own book). But since, unlike in verbal communication, the words we say online don’t vanish into thin air, we run a greater risk of getting caught when we lie electronically, and are therefore less likely to do so when penning an email, for example:

For in-person communication, most cultures look a person in the eye to gauge if he or she is lying. Big mistake. Forty-five years of research prove that “humans cannot rely at all on eyes for deception,” Hancock said. “The average deception detection rate is 54 percent.” Reliance on facts, now easier to check via the Internet than ever before, he said, is the best way to determine truth.

And while in-person communication is unreliable, telephone communication is even less so. With no visual or in-text mechanism to verify what is being said, phones provide us our most convenient way to sidestep the truth.

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Internet via Shutterstock.

While this is all good to know while chatting on Facebook or commenting on AMERICAblog, this information is also useful for the increasing number of people who are aggregating online information and are wondering how accurate it might be. Hancock’s analysis of Twitter usage during the Libyan revolution, for example, showed an ability to predict with 85 percent accuracy when a large-scale protest was about to take place given the volume of certain keywords. If individuals are honest online, the crowd is even more honest.

Americans spend over fifteen hours per month on Facebook alone, and countless more hours on other Web sites. There are plenty of reasons to be troubled that we spend so much time online, but it’s good to know that as we post more, at least we lie less.

You can watch Hancock’s TEDx Talk here.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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