Instant Message Responses Slower from Liars

People who are lying take longer to write a message according to a newly-published study. But the difference may not be enough to be a useful guide in text ‘conversations.’

Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah asked more than 100 students from two unnamed universities to take part in a test where a computer asked them 30 questions and they typed a reply. The students were told to lie in 50 percent of their answers.

The results, published in the journal ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems, showed that on average the students took 10 percent longer to write a false response. The cause of the delay appears to be explained by the fact that the students were more likely to edit a false response before submitting it — despite the fact that the false responses tended to be shorter.

It’s an interesting pattern in the light of previous research into truth and lies. Generally, people who are lying tend to be more careful about their responses and go into more detail, most likely to make their response sound more accurate and thus believable. That’s related to the problem of eyewitness accounts, where respondents often subconsciously ‘create’ additional detail because their brain wants to make a complete, coherent story that makes sense, so they fill in any gaps.

Although the testing here involved users on computers, the researchers believe the results may also apply to other forms of communication such as instant messaging on social networks and people rapidly exchanging text messages on phones. (Contrary to some media reports, the theory has not been tested or proven for people texting on phones.)

One big limitation to using the results is that given the time it takes to write a message and then have it delivered, a 10 percent difference may not be perceptible to recipients. The researchers speculated about the possibility that computerized tools could act as a form of lie detector for online chats.

The researchers also analyzed the actual words people used when making the true and false responses but couldn’t spot any clear links.

The BYU research follows a previous study by the University of British Columbia that involved a role-playing game where players acted as stockbrokers and investors. It found that the ‘stockbroker’ was more likely to lie when communicating via text message than in face-to-face conversations or phone calls; surprisingly video calls were more likely to see the stockbroker telling the truth than face-to-face conversations.

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