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People Lie More via E-mail Than With Handwritten Letters, Study Says

Not many people enjoy lying, and even fewer people enjoy admitting to it. But try as we might, most of us have had to do it at one point or another. There are several complex explanations for why humans fib, but a group of researchers recently found that our weapon of choice may play a role in altering the truth.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology finds that people lie 50-percent more via e-mail than they do with handwritten letters. Although it's already been established that people are more likely to fib when sending text messages than when speaking on the phone or in person, researchers conducting the study were surprised to find a similar discrepancy across more comparable mediums. According to PsyBlog, Charles Naquin and his team of scientists attribute this mendacious tendency to something known as the Moral Disengagement Theory, which is traditionally used to help explain why people do things that they know are wrong.

What makes e-mail particularly conducive to moral disengagement is the greater "distance" that users perceive. Instead of equating an e-mail with a handwritten letter, most compare it to a conversation; the unsend option on many e-mail servers engenders a greater sense of impermanence, thus senders subconsciously treat it more casually. Naquin also speculates that most people feel less inhibited online, since there aren't the same kinds of ingrained social norms that dictate other interpersonal relationships. The perceived barriers separating online individuals also create a greater sense of disconnect within a given individual, perhaps lessening the consequences of his or her actions.

In our view, comparing letters and e-mails today is like comparing a BMW to a Conestoga wagon. The task of actually putting pen to paper has become so arduous compared to typing up an e-mail that the circumstances under which you'd actually write one have become particularly narrow -- and, we'd imagine, less conducive to lying. No one would really use a letter to invite you to a weekend picnic, for example, and you wouldn't write one back to make up an excuse to get out of it. Paper correspondence has become completely disparate from digital communication, so assuming any parallel behavior across the two is already a pretty big stretch. Naquin and his team may have been surprised by the results, but we're not. [From: PsyBlog; via: Geekosystem]

Tags: behavior, e-mail, email, letters, lying, moral disengagement theory, MoralDisengagementTheory, morality, psychology, top