Has your gut ever told you that the long, awkward pause on the other side of that smartphone or chat screen was an indicator that the recipient of your message was crafting a fib? Turns out it might be a clue.

From Motherboard’s article, Awkward Texting Is the New Lie Detector:

The worst thing to happen to the art of witty conversation were those damn “now typing” indicators. You know, like the three dots in iMessage that linger on the screen too long—a dead giveaway that you’re not effortlessly clever, but rather are concocting, rewriting, and perfecting the next response.

What’s even more troubling, is that those awkward pauses could be a sign that the message you’re about to receive is a big fat lie. Indeed, a new study finds that when people are lying in text messages or online chats, they take longer to respond, make more edits, and write shorter responses.

Texting has long been considered a haven for deceit: Past studies show that people are more likely to evade the truth in written communication than when talking to someone face-to-face—the obvious reason being it’s harder to know if someone’s being dishonest without tell-tale signs like darting eyes, fidgeting, higher pitched voice, or whatever your nervous habit of choice may be.

That’s why researchers from Brigham Young University are interested in finding ways to better detect when someone is lying digitally. “Digital conversations are a fertile ground for deception because people can easily conceal their identity and their messages often appear credible,” study co-author Tom Meservy wrote. “Unfortunately, humans are terrible at detecting deception. We’re creating methods to correct that.”

As concerning as “methods to correct that” might sound, the article mentions things like fraud, scams and internet crime as motivating factors in studying such things. (Maybe with a few tips on the subject, things might have turned out differently for Manti Te’o).

Researchers solicited chat-based answers from about 100 students who were asked to lie in half their responses.  Of the 1,572 deceitful and 1,590 truthful responses, the false ones “took 10 percent longer to create and were edited more than the honest messages,” according to Motherboard.

The article concedes the modest numbers in the sample size and the amount of increase in response time. But it notes that “it’s some indication that there are subtle clues that can help detect e-lying waiting to be discovered, and researchers are hoping to find more.”

The research seems to have some way to go, but it’s an interesting consideration, nonetheless.  And I think even more importantly, it highlights some of the challenges and complexities of digital communication today.


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