You can take two important things from a recent study on honesty in communications. One, you really are more likely to lie in a text and two, that person you lied to is going to be incredibly pissed that you did it in a text.
In a study yet to be published in the Journal of Business Ethics, researchers found that people are much more likely to lie if they are behind the text wall as opposed to communicating face-to-face or even talking on the phone.
Here’s how the research was conducted:
140 students were gathered to interact in a sort of role-playing game that put them in a situation where lying would prove fortuitous. One student was given the role of a stockbroker and the other student played the prospective stock buyer. The stockbrokers were told that the stock they were trying to sell would depreciate in value 50% in the next week. They then “gave the stockbroker a financial incentive to sell as much of the bad stock to the buyer as possible,” says the LA Times.
What they found shouldn’t come as a massive shock to anyone. The stockbrokers were more likely to lie or “engage in duplicitous behavior” if they talked about the sale via text message, as opposed to other more personal methods of conversation.
When you think about it, it makes sense. With a text message, you don’t have to look the person you’re lying to in the eye. Hell, you don’t even have to hear their voice. It’s easier to lie when they other person can’t see that you’re nervous – that your palms or sweaty or you’re stumbling over your words.
The counterintuitive find from the study deals with people’s reaction to being lied to. The buyers reported being more angry when they were lied to via text message.
Of course, this flies in the face of the common wisdom that one of the worst things you can do to a person is look them right in the eye and lie to them.
“What we speculated was going on is there is some instant rapport-building, and some quick trust that happens when you talk to someone face to face, and it acts as a buffer and an inoculation — almost like a vaccine — against negative reactions. People are still angry or upset if they are lied to face to face, but when they are lied to in the leaner communications, they are more angry,” said researcher Ronald Cenfetelli.
I wonder if these findings translate to emails as well. I guess it really might piss people off more when they are deceived in an email. My mother did always say, “If a person looks me square in the eye and lies to me, at least I know it had to be worth it.”