Study: Email Encourages Lying

Last Updated Sep 26, 2008 5:51 PM EDT

  • Emails: a road to deception?The Find: Email may make it easier for your team to communicate, but it also makes them more likely to lie, recent research reports.
  • The Source: A recent paper entitled "Being Honest Online: The Finer Points of Lying in Online Ultimatum Bargaining" co-authored by Liuba Belkin, assistant professor of management at Lehigh University, Terri Kurtzberg of Rutgers University and Charles Naquin of DePaul University.
The Takeaway: Researchers interested in how different methods of communication correlated with the sender's honesty set up a little experiment. 48 full-time MBA students were asked to divide $89 dollars between themselves and a fictional second party who did not know the exact dollar amount the students had been given. The other party, the students were told, would be compelled to accept whatever offer was given.

Some students used email and some pen-and-paper to communicate how much they had received (truthfully or not) and their plans to divvy up the loot. The researchers found that "students using e-mail lied about the amount of money to be divided over 92% of the time, while less then 64% lied about the pot size in the pen-and-paper condition."

Not only did those using email lie more frequently, they also claimed to feel more justified deceiving their correspondent about the size of the pot. A follow-up study indicated that the more familiar an emailer was with his correspondent, the less likely it was that he would be deceptive.

Perhaps these results are just a corollary of the old truism that the anonymity of the Internet sometimes means less than lovely aspects of people come out online. But then again, writing a letter to a stranger is pretty anonymous as well. Whatever the explanation, the takeaway is clear, beware the corrupting temptation of email on both yourself and your team.

The Question: No lying now: how does your honesty in emails compare to your honesty in other forms of communication?

(Image of email road marker by Mzelle Biscotte, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.