We all know how easy it can be to create an online persona that’s completely different than who we are in real life. Brad Paisley made the concept mainstream when he sang he was “so much cooler online,” convincing us he was 6’5” and drove a Maserati.
The lying people commit isn’t what surprises researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst because let’s face it, everyone lies. It’s how much more often people lie online than in face-to-face communication that surprised the research team.
In a study that appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers found “that people are more likely to lie to strangers when they're communicating via email or instant messages rather than when they are talking face-to-face.”
The researchers analyzed 220 undergraduate students and instructed them to converse with strangers of the same gender for 15 minutes. The types of communication were broken down into email, instant message or face-to-face.
In the 15 minutes of communicating, the researchers found that those talking via email lied about five times more than those speaking face-to-face; those speaking via instant message lied about three times more than those talking face-to-face based on total word count.
"The farther away they were from the person they were communicating with, either physically or psychologically, the more apt they were to lie," said study author Mattitiyahu Zimbler, a graduate student and senior researcher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
People lie the most in email, Zimbler noted because compared to in-person chats, "In email, you don't have to worry about your mannerisms giving anything away, so you could feel more free to lie about feelings.”
This “digital deception” is the subject of multiple papers written by Michael Woodworth, a forensic psychologist at UBC Okanagan studying deception in computer-mediated environments.
Not only are people committing more lies online, Woodworth found that they’re better at doing so.