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Researchers study potential clues in deceptive texting

Researchers study potential clues in deceptive texting

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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For me it’s not trying to lie. It’s that I can’t type and my fingers don’t work so good for texting.

“Unfortunately, humans are terrible at detecting deception. We’re creating methods to correct that.”

In other words: We’re writing an app for that.

Please don’t tell me we’ve wasted good money on “research” to discover that human nature is corrupt!

Sounds like something a good sequester might solve! rofl

2nd Ammendment Mother | September 6, 2013 at 11:11 am

I always apply the same standard whether I’m commenting, texting, or IMing…..
Think before you speak (or type)!

We all can jot off the first thing that comes to mind, but when you re-read it, you need to ask yourself if it makes sense, will the listener understand my meaning or is it something that is better left unsaid.

    Phillep Harding in reply to 2nd Ammendment Mother. | September 6, 2013 at 11:40 am


    If we’ve been “speaking” with someone for some time, we can communicate even with clumsy phrases and the other people know what we really mean. Posting for strangers to read? Hah.

That 5 minute delay could just mean I was in the bathroom and it’s kinda hard to do two things at once with your hands…..well….. you get the drift. Good grief! Was this study government-funded? Sounds like it.

KM from Detroit | September 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm

This will work until people compose their replies in notepad and then paste the response, wholesale, into their IM client and hit send. Then all you have to worry about is the time it took–but there’s no “I’m typing” indicator, no way to judge how many times a message has been edited and reworked, etc.

Absurd! Construct a scenario where half of the study participants are instructed to write fibs in their answers and then discover that it took this group took longer to respond to texts is hardly a basis to evaluate truthfulness in texts. Don’tcha know that when one group has no constraints and can reply naturally – of course they will respond faster!

So, what are you wearing? LOL!!