In a Cornell study entitled “Lies in Conversation: An Examination of Deception Using Automated Linguistic Analysis,” researchers found that deceitful online communication tends to differ linguistically from truthful communication. The study discovered that those who lied online “used more words, [and] made use of more sense terms,” such as “see,” “touch,” and “listen,” explained Prof. Jeff Hancock, communication and information science. Additionally, online liars “reduced the number of first personal pronouns [they used], but increased the number of third personal pronouns,” Hancock added.
These linguistic changes were not just observed in the liars’ statements, however. Those who were lied to also exhibited linguistic changes. In general, they “produced more words and sense terms, and asked more questions with shorter sentences . . . than when they were being told the truth,” stated the researchers in the report.
Thus, “the data suggests that although receivers were not explicitly aware that their partner was lying to them [i.e., they were blind to the deception manipulation], they were implicitly aware that they were being lied to,” said Saurabh Goorha, grad and co-author of the study. During the study, each participant was paired with another and asked to engage in conversation with their partner over an instant messaging program. “The participants were informed that they would be monitored and their initial consent was taken,” said Goorha.
Afterwards, each participant was asked to discuss five different topics. “The first topic was … was used as a kind of ice-breaker,” Goorha explained, “this gave enough time to participants to get acclimatized with their partners.” The last four conversation topics were analyzed for the study and no time restrictions were placed on any of the participants.
Following the study, conversation transcripts were divided by topic into text files and analyzed by using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) program. The data presented researchers with the descriptive statistics for each variable, such as word count and first personal pronoun usage, presented in the study.
After the data was statistically scrutinized, it was found that the linguistic differences between the liars and honest individuals were very systematic. “They were being kind of strategic,” explained Hancock.
Although, the study closely investigated lying patterns in spontaneously produced text, it did not deal with spontaneous lies more typical of face-to-face conversations because participants were given time to come up with some of their lies. “More research needs to be done in order to study spontaneously produced lies,” said Hancock.
Nonetheless, “the conclusions offer some really interesting incite into different linguistic cues that can be used to identify deceit” in text based communication, explained Prof. Michael T. Woodworth, forensic psychology, Okanagan University College, co-author of the study. Though “you will certainly find people that don’t fit this profile at all, at least a red flag can go up,” Woodworth added.
Accordingly, a potential danger of the study’s results could involve informing liars of ways to avoid such cues. We could “create super liars that essentially learn to beat the system,” said Hancock. However, a lot of these cues are “are things that we don’t actively think about in conversation–words, that we as humans don’t hear,” Hancock explained. Thus, people cannot “consciously change without putting a lot of effort in to it,” Hancock added. Though this may be possible in computer based communication where a liar doesn’t “have to seem totally natural by sending [a] message right away, … it would be really hard to cover up all of these things,” Woodworth explained. Additionally, in the future, with “greater broadband penetration, voice and video chats should increase. These multiple modes of communication should give interaction partners a greater chance in catching a liar,” said Goorha.
Related future studies are planned to continue the investigation of deceit detection. “We are thinking of getting people to come in and do face to face conversation for about 10 minutes,” said Hancock.
Lauren E. Curry ’04 was also co-author of the study.
Archived article by David Andrade
Sun Staff Writer