Text messaging leads people to be more deceitful than other modes of communication, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia compared the level of deceit people are prepared to use in a variety of communication methods, from text messages to face-to-face interactions.
“Our results confirm that the more anonymous the technology allows a person to be in a communications exchange, the more likely they are to become morally lax,” says Professor Karl Aquino.
The study involved 170 students performing mock stock transactions in one of four ways: face-to-face, by video, audio or text chatting. Researchers promised cash awards of up to $50 to increase participants’ involvement in the role play.
“Brokers” were promised increased cash rewards for more stock sales, while “buyers” were told their reward would depend on the yet-to-be-determined value of the stock.
The brokers were given inside information that the stock was rigged to lose half of its value. Buyers were only informed of this after the mock sales transaction and were asked to report whether the brokers had employed deceit to sell their stock.
The researchers then analyzed which forms of communication led to more deception.
They found that buyers who received information via text messages were 95 percent more likely to report deception than if they had interacted via video; 31 percent more likely to report deception when compared to face-to-face; and 18 percent more likely if the interaction was via audio chat.
The results suggest that communicating by video heightened the brokers’ awareness of being scrutinized, which suppressed their impulse to use dishonest sales tactics — the so-called “spotlight” effect, researchers said.
“With this in mind, people shopping online using websites like eBay should consider asking sellers to talk over Skype to ensure they are getting information in the most trustworthy way possible,” says associate professor Ronald Cenfetelli.
The study also reveals that people deceived by “leaner” media, such as text messages, are more angered than those misled by “richer” media, such as video chat, he notes.
The lesson for business is that video conferencing or in-person interactions may be preferable to text-based communication if the company is concerned about how customers may react to the given information, he adds.
The study will appear in the March edition of the Journal of Business Ethics.