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Phone fibbing is the most common form of lying

March 8 2004 - Research shows that people lie in a quarter of their daily, social interactions and Cornell University communications researchers say that people are most likely to lie on the telephone.

Phone fibbing even beats e-mail, instant messaging and face-to-face communication in the lying stakes.

"Some psychologists did not expect this. Lies makes us feel uncomfortable, and you would think we should be using media to reduce that discomfort, but that's not the case," says Jeff Hancock, Cornell assistant professor of communication. In a study of 30 students, his research group found that, "People lied most on the telephone and least in e-mail, and that lying rates in face-to-face and instant message interactions were about equal," he says. It is the communication technology, he suggests, that affects lying.

Hancock and Cornell graduate students Jennifer Thom-Santelli and Thompson Ritchie will present their peer-reviewed study, "Deception and Design: The Impact of Communication on Lying Behavior," April 24-29 at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) scientific meeting in Vienna, Austria.

According to Jeff Hancock, on average, lies told by students in the study were trivial. Lies told through e-mail tended more often to be planned, and usually they were believed.

What is it about the telephone that makes lying easier? "If you called in sick to your boss, but you were dressed and ready to ski, you would succeed in lying on the phone. But if you claimed to be sick in a face-to-face conversation, but you were wearing a ski outfit, you would obviously fail in lying," Hancock observes.

The telephone, says Hancock, allows people in different physical locations "to communicate with vocal and inflection cues intact, while e-mail and instant messages eliminate or distort nonverbal cues and modify the timing of communication." .

Most lies are unplanned and tend to emerge spontaneously from conversation, "media where interactions are in real time boost the opportunity for deception," Hancock says. "If during a conversation one friend is asked by another what she thinks of his new shirt, and she does not like it, she is now presented with a decision to lie or not," says Hancock. "This type of opportunity is less likely to arise when composing an e-mail. Thus face-to-face conversation, telephones and instant messages present more opportunity for lies."

But if the conversation is on the record, Hancock notes, people are less likely to lie. "Users should be hesitant to lie in a medium where statements are recorded and are easily reviewed," he says. Face-to-face and telephone conversations are typically not recorded, while e-mail is often saved by both the sender, receiver and by servers hosting e-mail accounts. Instant-message conversations are logged for the duration of an exchange and can easily be saved.

Students in the study were asked to record all social communications for seven days, including how often they lied. The number of lies was divided by the number of social communications to calculate the rate of deception. Between them, the 30 students in the study made 1,198 social communications and 310 lies. On average, this amounted to 6.11 social communications daily and lied 1.6 times per day. This meant that about 26% of reported social communications involved a lie.

37% of the telephone conversations involved deception, while face-to-face conversations included lies 27% of the time. About 21% of instant messages and 14% of e-mails included lies. According to Jeff Hancock, experienced e-mail users were more likely to lie more often.

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