People lie more via email than when using good old pen-and-paper, a new study finds. (Wait, people still write with paper and pen? Now we’re getting at the core of the real lie…)
OK, but it seems that lying increased by 50% between the pen-and-paper experimental condition and the email condition. So, why? It’s social disengagement theory in action: We’re more likely to feel OK about deviating from our usual ethical standards when we can tell ourselves that, in this situation, it’s not so bad, and when we’ve got some psychological distance from any bad consequences of our actions.
Both of these are encouraged by three characteristics of email:
- Less permanent: people think of it as a substitute for conversation rather than a letter. People feel they are ‘chatting’ more over email, rather than writing to each other. The impermanence of email is emphasised by a GMail feature which allows users to ‘unsend’ a message within 5 seconds of sending (instructions here).
- Less restrained: as mentioned in this previous post on social networking profiles, people behave in a more disinhibited way online. Online exchanges show less conformity to social norms, people display much less restraint and are less worried about what others think of them.
- Lower personal connection: studies show that online, people feel less trust and rapport with others, leaving them with a sense of disconnection.
All of these may lead people to feel low levels of accountability for their emails. Hence more fibs.
And as a sidenote: I don’t think respondents were lying here, when they told Gallup pollsters that things weren’t going well for them financially: Only 41% of Americans described their personal financial situation as excellent or good, the lowest level measured in a decade.