Have you ever hung up from a phone call and knew immediately that the other person was lying to you? Have you ever had a face-to-face conversation with someone and walked away thinking, are they really telling the truth? More importantly, have you ever wanted to lie in a text or email but took a step back and thought, “I shouldn’t write out this lie because I will never be able to erase it.” Well, multiple studies have shown that a person is actually more likely to tell the truth via text message or email rather than in-person or through telecommunication.
Stanford Magazine, interviewed Cornell University’s Associate Professor of cognitive science, Jeff Hancock, who suggested that while it may seem that with the rise of fake news and misinformation, finding honesty throughout digital communities is unobtainable, his research shows “that when we get people to review their personal communications, they find that their online messages are more honest than their face-to-face interactions or phone calls.”
Hancock further indicates that the reason why we are more honest online is actually a lot more simple than we think. In the past, before there was modern technology or even written language, people were able to lie to each other without question. Once the words were said, they vanished. With the development of written language, word processors and then emails, lying has become a lot more complicated. Emailing and texting now leaves a digital trail, which means that once a lie is sent, there is a record of it. “So not only are you leaving a record for yourself on your machine, but you’re leaving a record for the person you were lying to,” Hancock says. Concluding that technology might in fact make us more honest than ever.
While there are multiple factors that contribute to honesty through digital communication. We have highlighted and explained the most important.
When completing a task where you have to answer questions and recall past information, being focused and dialed in is key. Jeff Hancocks research concluded that a person tends to narrowly focus on completing a task on their mobile device, becoming less cognizant of external factors. Proving that, although one may be, let’s say walking down a hectic street, in a restaurant, or on public transit, they are able to efficiently complete said task on their phone, without distraction. Resulting in accurate, detailed, and thought-out responses.
People tend to be more self-disclosing on their phones, as their device brings feelings of comfort and familiarity. A study done at the University of Pennsylvania about How Smartphones Enhance Consumer Disclosure, further confirms Hancocks findings. Marketing professor Shiri Melumad says that , “Because our smartphones are with us all of the time and perform so many vital functions in our lives, they often serve as ‘adult pacifiers’ that bring feelings of comfort to their owners.” Having that emotional connection with a phone, therefore makes people more likely to reveal truthful and sensitive information.
When picking up the phone and abruptly calling someone to ask a question, it is common to get vague, brief answers. One of the main reasons for this is that the individual feels either put on the spot or put under a time pressure. A University of Michigan study found that people give more precise answers via texting because there’s no time pressure in a largely asynchronous mode, like text or emailing, that there is in phone conversations. Let’s use digital reference checking as an example. Although there is no immediate time pressure put on an email and text message, reference respondents tend to answer in a timely manner, as they receive an automated message directly to their phone to remind them. Definitely more effective and less stressful than a phone call!
To exemplify the benefits of digital communication in the hiring process, we further look at automated reference checking. While many employers are used to playing a game of phone tag to gather reference information, the shift to digital reference checking has become something proven to garner better and more definite results. Not only does this system save time for the recruiters, but it also generates more accurate, detailed, and honest answers from references.
While Americablog suggests “that in-person communication is unreliable, telephone communication is even less so. With no visual or in-text mechanism to verify what is being said, phones provide us our most convenient way to sidestep the truth.” When referring back to our example, automated reference checking, people are more likely to be truthful about sensitive questions. They are also more likely to give more accurate answers to numerical questions, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Many studies conclude that with this inevitable shift from in-person communication to digital communication, people have become more focused when crafting responses. They also have a sense of familiarity with their phone, allowing them to have vulnerability when answering questions. And without the time pressure and the possible discomfort that comes with a direct phone call, individuals are able to provide thought-out responses.
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