Category Archives: Online communication

Research round-up 6: And finally, kids’ lies, online lies and my deception book of the year

Happy new year! Here is the final part of the 2008 deception research round-up, put together to make amends for having neglected this blog over the past few months. This post includes bits and pieces of deception research that didn’t fit too well into the first five round-up posts. Hope you’ve enjoyed them all!


First, a couple of articles about how children learn to lie:

Eye gaze plays a pivotal role during communication. When interacting deceptively, it is commonly believed that the deceiver will break eye contact and look downward. We examined whether children’s gaze behavior when lying is consistent with this belief. …Younger participants (7- and 9-year-olds) broke eye contact significantly more when lying compared with other conditions. Also, their averted gaze when lying differed significantly from their gaze display in other conditions. In contrast, older participants did not differ in their durations of eye contact or averted gaze across conditions. Participants’ knowledge about eye gaze and deception increased with age. This knowledge significantly predicted their actual gaze behavior when lying. These findings suggest that with increased age, participants became increasingly sophisticated in their use of display rule knowledge to conceal their deception.

The relation between children’s lie-telling and their social and cognitive development was examined. Children (3-8 years) were told not to peek at a toy. Most children peeked and later lied about peeking. Children’s subsequent verbal statements were not always consistent with their initial denial and leaked critical information revealing their deceit. Children’s conceptual moral understanding of lies, executive functioning, and theory-of-mind understanding were also assessed. Children’s initial false denials were related to their first-order belief understanding and their inhibitory control. Children’s ability to maintain their lies was related to their second-order belief understanding. Children’s lying was related to their moral evaluations. These findings suggest that social and cognitive factors may play an important role in children’s lie-telling abilities.

Technotreachery – lying via CMC

It’s a popular topic and the literature is growing all the time. Here’s some of the new research published in 2008 about lying in computer-mediated communication:

This study aimed to elaborate the relationships between sensation-seeking, Internet dependency, and online interpersonal deception. Of the 707 individuals recruited to this study, 675 successfully completed the survey. The results showed high sensation-seekers and high Internet dependents were more likely to engage in online interpersonal deception than were their counterparts.

Deception research has been primarily studied from a Western perspective, so very little is known regarding how other cultures view deception… this study proposes a framework for understanding the role Korean and American culture plays in deceptive behavior for both face-to-face (FTF) and computer-mediated communication (CMC). … Korean respondents exhibited greater collectivist values, lower levels of power distance, and higher levels of masculine values than Americans. Furthermore, deceptive behavior was greater for FTF communication than for CMC for both Korean and American respondents. In addition to a significant relationship between culture and deception, differences were found between espoused cultural values and deceptive behavior, regardless of national culture. These results indicate the need for future research to consider cultural differences when examining deceptive behavior.

This study set out to investigate the type of media individuals are more likely to tell self-serving and other-oriented lies, and whether this varied according to the target of the lie. One hundred and fifty participants rated on a likert-point scale how likely they would tell a lie. Participants were more likely to tell self-serving lies to people not well-known to them. They were more likely to tell self-serving lies in email, followed by phone, and finally face-to-face. Participants were more likely to tell other-oriented lies to individuals they felt close to and this did not vary according to the type media. Participants were more likely to tell harsh truths to people not well-known to them via email.

Detecting deception

OK, I know this probably could have gone into an earlier post. However, it does involve a bit of machinery so it didn’t fit in part 1, but the machinery has been in use for several decades so it couldn’t really fit in post 2.

An increasing number of researchers are exploring variations of the Concealed Knowledge Test (CKT) as alternatives to traditional ‘lie-detector’ tests. For example, the response times (RT)-based CKT has been previously shown to accurately detect participants who possess privileged knowledge. Although several studies have reported successful RT-based tests, they have focused on verbal stimuli despite the prevalence of photographic evidence in forensic investigations. Related studies comparing pictures and phrases have yielded inconsistent results. The present work compared an RT-CKT using verbal phrases as stimuli to one using pictures of faces. This led to equally accurate and efficient tests using either stimulus type. Results also suggest that previous inconsistent findings may be attributable to study procedures that led to better memory for verbal than visual items. When memory for verbal phrases and pictures were equated, we found nearly identical detection accuracies.

Deception book of the year

And finally, an important publication in 2008 was the second edition of Aldert Vrij’s Detecting Lies and Deceit: Pitfalls and Opportunities. The first edition (published in 2000) has been one of my key references for scholarly research on deception, along with Paul Ekman’s Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics and Marriage and Granhag and Stronwall’s edited volume on The Detection of Deception in Forensic Contexts. Not surprising then that Vrij’s second edition is already one of the most frequently consulted volumes on my deception bookshelf.

Vrij says that he did not originally envisage updating his 2000 book until at least 2010, but felt with the increasing amount of new research in this area, and increasing interest from law enforcement and security agencies in detecting deception that he could not wait that long. The result is a volume that is substantially updated with research published up to about the middle of 2007. The book has been completely rewritten and there are several new chapters covering recent developments in mechanical methods of deception detection, including brain scanning technologies (e.g., fMRI, P300 brain waves), thermal imaging and voice stress analysis. Vrij also adds a helpful chapter on how professionals can become better lie detectors.

It’s not perfect – I’d welcome more detail on on understanding the reasons why people lie (the book is mostly about catching liars), more on creating a context in which someone is more likely to tell the truth, and more discussion of cross-cultural differences in deception (though to be fair there is shockingly little research in this area to discuss). But despite these criticisms, Vrij’s new book remains a ‘must have’ reference for academics and professionals interested in up-to-date research on deception detection. Practitioners in particular should heed Vrij’s warning about over-hyped techniques for ‘deception detection’: as Vrij says, the best way to avoid falling for the hype is by keeping up to date with the independent, objective research on deception detection. This book is a great tool for giving yourself a grounding in that research.

Phew. Six months’ blogging in 6 days. Hope you enjoyed it!

New research: Recording lying, cheating, and defiance in an Internet Based Simulated Environment

Over in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior, Sara Russell and Lawrence James report on research on lying and cheating in a virtual environment. This paper is less about lying and cheating per se, however, and more about a new method for eliciting and recording such behaviour. Why does this matter? The authors explain:

… most psychological research being conducted on the Internet includes simply changing the delivery method of questionnaires from paper-and-pencil to an electronic equivalence. Although this transition will offer advantages over traditional methods and is a step forward, it does not embrace the full capabilities of an Internet environment as a tool. The authors found no reports of Internet research being conducted in which behavior was both elicited and recorded in a pre-defined, controlled Internet environment…

Other than highly complex and expensive software creations of virtual realities such as flight training simulations, research is lacking in utilizing electronically generated environment such as an Internet Based Simulated Environment (IBSE) to mimic experiences that can elicit and record specific pre-defined behaviors of interest to scientists. More specifically, research utilizing such technology to record behavioral manifestations of human personality traits is needed. This need for an electronic environment such as an IBSE will be driven by the inherent difficulty of utilizing direct observation in a real or laboratory setting which often leads researchers to rely on self-reports of behavior. (p.2015)

The researchers asked participants to complete (on paper) the Conditional Reasoning Test of Aggression (CRT-A), a test that measures the tendency to “respond to frustrating situations in an aggressive way” (p.2016) and then directed them to an online quiz that was designed “to initially and continually cause frustrating situations to occur from the start to the end of user experience” (p.2017). These included patronising instructions (“use your keyboard to type your username”), and random ‘errors’ that were not the participant’s fault (“Page cannot be found, you performed an incorrect operation. Click here to retrieve your quiz”). (The authors said that when constructing the test they drew inspiration from their own experiences – I think many of us will identify with the sort of situations they created!)

In response, participants were given the opportunity to lie (about whether or not they had read a detailed set of instructions) or cheat (when a link they clicked took them apparently to an administrator site that allowed them to change their scores). Defiant participants (those who, for instance, truthfully said they had not read the instructions but nevertheless started the quiz) were also logged.

In all, a quarter of the 191 participants in this study cheated, with around 11% defiant and 7% lying, with just under 40% performing at least one of these behaviours. Those who received high scores on the CRT-A were significantly more likely to engage in one or more of these behaviours.

So what? Well, the researchers rightly note that there are problems with this research, the most significant being that it the method cannot measure offline behaviours such as “yelling, cursing, or possibly physical aggression towards the computer” (p2023), and that it does not provide an objective – or even subjective – measure of ‘frustration’ (we all have different thresholds and experience different levels of frustration). But the research does show that it is possible to conduct internet-based research in a more creative and productive way than simply transposing questionnaires from paper to a website. In particular, the study demonstrated a method for getting away from reliance on self-reports and instead easily (and covertly) measuring actual occurrances of particular (potentially socially undesirable) behaviours, which has application in a range of scenarios, not just deception-related.


Ways for repairing trust breakdowns in one-off online interactions

What can you do if you’ve unintentionally offended someone by being or appearing deceptive online? Here’s a recent article on restoring trust online, from the June 2008 issue of International Journal of Human-Computer Studies:

Online offences are generally considered as frequent and intentional acts performed by a member with the aim to deceive others. However, an offence may also be unintentional or exceptional, performed by a benevolent member of the community. This article examines whether a victim’s decrease in trust towards an unintentional or occasional offender can be repaired in an online setting, by designing and evaluating systems to support forgiveness. We study which of three systems enable the victim of a trust breakdown to fairly assess this kind of offender. The three systems are: (1) a reputation system, (2) a reputation system with a built-in apology forum that may display the offender’s apology to the victim and (3) a reputation system with a built-in apology forum that also includes a “forgiveness” component. The “forgiveness” component presents the victim with information that demonstrates the offender’s trustworthiness as judged by the system. We experimentally observe that systems (2) and (3), endorsing apology and supporting forgiveness, allow victims to recover their trust after online offences. An apology from the offender restores the victim’s trust only if the offender cooperates in a future interaction; it does not alleviate the trust breakdown immediately after it occurs. By contrast, the “forgiveness” component restores the victim’s trust directly after the offence and in a subsequent interaction. The applicability of these findings for extending reputation systems is discussed.


Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles

In the latest issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Catalina Toma and colleagues consider how people lie in online dating profiles, and what they lie about. Here’s the abstract:

This study examines self-presentation in online dating profiles using a novel cross-validation technique for establishing accuracy. Eighty online daters rated the accuracy of their online self-presentation. Information about participants’ physical attributes was then collected (height, weight, and age) and compared with their online profile, revealing that deviations tended to be ubiquitous but small in magnitude. Men lied more about their height, and women lied more about their weight, with participants farther from the mean lying more. Participants’ self-ratings of accuracy were significantly correlated with observed accuracy, suggesting that inaccuracies were intentional rather than self-deceptive. Overall, participants reported being the least accurate about their photographs and the most accurate about their relationship information. Deception patterns suggest that participants strategically balanced the deceptive opportunities presented by online self-presentation (e.g., the editability of profiles) with the social constraints of establishing romantic relationships (e.g., the anticipation of future interaction).


See also:

Deception in cyberspace

avatarAn interesting article in the September 2007 issue of International Journal of Human-Computer Studies explores various aspects of deception in online chat.

The researchers were particularly interested in the use of avatars (“a virtual representation of oneself that other users can see or interact with in a virtual environment”, p.770) in deception. Are people influenced in their choice of avatar when they have deception in mind? Are people hiding behind avatars are perceived as trustworthy in conversation compared to when they are engaged in text-to-text chat without avatars? Does the use of an avatar as a ‘mask’ help liars reduce anxiety about deceiving?

In the study, student participants were randomly assigned to truth telling or lying conditions and some were allowed to choose avatars. They then conducted conversations with each other in text-only or avatar-supported chat rooms.

The researchers found that participants who had been assigned to the ‘deception’ condition were more likely than truth-tellers to choose avatars that looked different from themselves. The authors suggest that “by selecting an avatar that is different from oneself (i.e., ‘putting on a mask’), the deceiver may perceive a greater distance from their conversation partner and a reduced likelihood that the deception can be detected” (p.778).

Supportive of this, the researchers found that in text-to-text chat, deceivers had higher (self-reported) anxiety levels than truth-tellers, but the same effect was not found in the avatar-supported chat. This suggests that hiding one’s identity behind an avatar ‘mask’ may help relieve any anxiety about deceiving your communication partner.

But there was no difference in ratings of trustworthiness of conversation partner, regardless of the use of avatars or whether the partner was in fact a deceiver. In other words, these participants were not able to pick up cues to deception in either conversation environment. Using an avatar may make the deceiver feel better but doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be perceived as any more – or indeed less – trustworthy than someone who is genuinely telling the truth.

More on the Deception Blog about deception in online communication here, and some links to other scholarly work on ‘techno-treachery’ here .


Photo credit: gexplorer, Creative Commons License

Lie detector software catches e-mail fibbers

From The Sunday Times, 25 Feb:

People who lie in their e-mails and text messages face being rumbled by new “truth detection” software being developed by researchers.

The academics have analysed tens of thousands of electronic messages and claim to have identified telltale signs that show if a person is being economical with the truth. […] The academics behind the software — which could be commercially available from next year — say it has also attracted the interest of law enforcement agencies.  Police believe it could help trap online fraudsters and make it easier to identify internet paedophiles who pose as youths to groom victims in chat-rooms or on social networking websites.

The lie-detection software is being developed by a team led by Jeff Hancock, director of the Computer-Mediated Communication Research Laboratory at Cornell University in New York state.

Hancock’s website has links to downloadable publications and more details of his research.

Workers ‘prefer lying by e-mail’

From BBC News Online (10 Jan):

Workers do not like lying to colleagues face-to-face and prefer the anonymity of the phone or e-mail, a study says.

About a third of all work communication involves some kind of deception, the study of North West firms found.

Withholding or distorting information and changing the subject of e-mails to confuse colleagues are among the most frequent tricks.

The results of the University of Central Lancashire research were being presented in Bristol on Wednesday.

Haven’t found anything more detailed about the actual study yet, but it does sound a bit more scientific than the Friends Provident study on the same topic that I mentioned a couple of weeks back…

Scientific and unscientific research on ‘techno-treachery’

Friends Provident (a financial services company) has garnered a fair amount of interest in the media with a pop survey of deception behaviour. Here’s how Reuters (28 Dec) covered it:
Gadgets seen as best way to tell white lies

More than four out of five people admit to telling little white lies at least once a day and the preferred way of being “economical with the truth” is to use technology such as cell phones, texts and e-mails, a survey on Thursday said.

The research by UK pollsters 72 Point found that “techno-treachery” was widespread with nearly 75 percent of people saying gadgets like Blackberrys made it easier to fib.

Just over half of respondents said using gadgets made them feel less guilty when telling a lie than doing it face to face, the study on behalf of financial services group Friends Provident found.

You can find the Friends Provident press release here. This seems to be becoming an annual adventure for FP – in December 2005 they announced another new survey on lying in a press release entitled “Three in four Britons tell white lies at least once a day“. Some of the topics were the same in the 2005 study as the 2006 one, and comparing the reported percentage agreements will give you a good idea of how ‘scientific’ these surveys are (or aren’t).

If you would like to read real scientific research on deception and computer-mediated communication, you could take a look at the work of Lina Zhou who has has been researching deception via gadets and online for the last few years, or Adam Joinson, who has a book coming out in 2007 on “Truth, Trust and Lies on the Internet”. Or try Hancock et al.’s 2004 study of deception via email, phone and face to face communication. Here are some references to get you started:

* Hancock, J. T., Thom-Santelli, J., & Ritchie, T. (2004). Deception and Design: The Impact of Communication Technology on Lying Behavior. Letters CHI, 6(1). See also Tasty Research commentary.
* Joinson, A.N. and Dietz-Uhler, B. (2002). Explanations for the perpetration of and reactions to deception in a virtual community. [PDF full text] Social Science Computer Review, 20 (3), 275-289.
* Zhou, L. (2005). An empirical investigation of deception behavior in instant messaging. Ieee Transactions on Professional Communication, 48(2), 147-160.
* Zhou, L., Burgoon, J. K., Zhang, D. S., & Nunamaker, J. F. (2004). Language dominance in interpersonal deception in computer-mediated communication. Computers in Human Behavior, 20(3), 381-402.
* Zhou, L., Burgoon, J. K., & Twitchell, D. P. (2003). A longitudinal analysis of language behavior of deception in e-mail. In Intelligence and Security Informatics, Proceedings (Vol. 2665, pp. 102-110).
* Zhou, L., Burgoon, J. K., Twitchell, D. P., Qin, T. T., & Nunamaker, J. F. (2004). A comparison of classification methods for predicting deception in computer-mediated communication.[PDF full text] Journal of Management Information Systems, 20(4), 139-165.

    Griping aside, I do like the term ‘techno-treachery’ though!

New article dealing with online deception

A Comparison of Deception Behavior in Dyad and Triadic Group Decision Making in Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication
Lina Zhou and Dongsong Zhang
Published in the April 06 issue of Small Group Reseach 27(2)

Here’s an extract from the abstract:

This study is the first attempt to investigate whether deceivers behave differently in dyads and triadic groups in synchronous computer-mediated communication. […]The empirical results revealed that cues to deception were contingent on the group size. […] This study raises a broad yet critical issue of group effect on deception behavior. It has significant implications for deception detection in computer-mediated communication.