People more prone to lie in email?

New research suggests that people are much more likely to lie in email than when using pen and paper to communicate to someone. Lehigh University management professor Liuba Belkin and her colleagues ran an interesting experiment on 48 students involving a pool of money that was to be divided among themselves and an imaginary. According to the researchers, those using email during the negotiations lied 92 percent of the time compared to pen-and-paper users who fibbed around 64 percent of the time. From a press release:
Looking for an opportunity to explain whether a shared sense of identity reduces an e-mailer’s impulse to lie, Belkin and her colleagues set up a second, related study of 69 full-time MBA students. The results of that study indicated that the more familiar e-mailers are with each other, the less deceptive their lies would be.

Bu they would still lie, regardless of how well they identified with each other.

In recent years, researchers who have compared e-mail to other modes of communication have found it to be associated with such unattractive behaviors as lower interpersonal trust, more negative attitudes, and, perhaps most notoriously, a greater penchant for "flaming"–sending messages that are offensive, embarrassing, or rude.

But in trying to account for the difference between two communication modes that appear similar, the researchers surmise in their report that people may "feel written documents carry stronger legal consequences than do e-mails, which feel fleeting in nature, despite the fact that they are actually harder to erase or contain. Thus, deception may be viewed differently in these two environments."
"Researcher: Workers more prone to lie in e-mail" (Lehigh University)


  1. This study of MBA’s sheds some light on our MBA president, and perhaps on the current matter of the 700 Billion as well?

  2. Well, Bush and co. (as well as Sarah Palin) still like to keep their e-mails hidden, by not using government accounts.

    But this is an interesting finding. My speculation would be that people feel handwriting is more personalized and revealing than typed text… especially typed text that can be endlessly revised before sending.

  3. The thing is, modification of the Truth in the process of rationalization is very common. Some people lie and the don’t even realize they’re doing it. Seriously, reality is that plastic.

  4. #4,MDH: If I had to guess from that one comment, I’d guess Jeff is in the field of psychology or possibly criminology or law, before business.

    Witness testimony is utterly unreliable – not because people are deliberately lying bastards, so much as they didn’t really notice much in the first place, but their brain filled in all the blanks and created a story for them that was consistent with their world view. Every time the witness is asked to repeat the story, it becomes more embedded in their brains as “true”.

    So what started as “I think he was sort of dark skinned?” ends up as “He was black!” (or people sprout hats that they were never wearing, or facial hair, or different clothes, or accomplices…

  5. I wonder if the reason for lying in e-mail being more prevalent than lying in print is more logistical than psychological. Most of us are better at filing and referencing sent e-mails than we are sent letters. That would make it easier to remember and perpetuate any lies told to those we correspond with.

  6. it think the tendency for exaggeration in online communication versus pen+paper has more to do with form factor- mainly the tv. the tv and the computer monitor bear some resemblance to each other and over time people have become accustomed to tv talking/communicate-ing to them and mostly well, lying. well, almost exclusively lying. ok, tv lies always, thanks commercials. so when people are talking back to the tv ( not consciously understanding any differentiation between tv and computer monitor ) they tend to speak to it in the language that they know it speaks- lies.

  7. If you think people are more prone to lie in e-mail, the situation must be much worse in boingboing comments. I’m lying now, in fact.

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