May 19, 2012, 7:36 AM — People are more likely to tell the truth in a text message than in a voice interview, according to researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
The preliminary findings were unexpected, according to Fred Conrad, a cognitive psychologist and the institute's director of its survey methodology program.
"This is sort of surprising since many people thought that texting would decrease the likelihood of disclosing sensitive information because it creates a persistent, visual record of questions and answers that others might see on your phone and in the cloud," he said in an online version of the institute's alumni magazine.
What's more, people gave more accurate answers to questions when texting than when responding by voice. They were less prone to providing answers that are the equivalent of rounding off numbers. Conrad explained that texters provide more precise answers to questions because they have more time to think about their responses than they do while engaged in real time conversation.
"We're in the early stages of analyzing our findings," explained Conrad's colleague on the study, Michael Schober, a professor of psychology and dean of the graduate faculty at the New School for Social Research. "But so far it seems that texting may reduce some respondents' tendency to shade the truth or to present themselves in the best possible light in an interview -- even when they know it's a human interviewer they are communicating with via text."
"What we cannot yet be sure of is who is most likely to be disclosive in text," he added. "Is it different for frequent texters, or generational, for example?"
Some 600 iPhone users were recruited for the study. Its goals were to compare responses to a number of questions based on how the queries were asked (voice or text), by whom they were asked (human or computer) and the environment in which they were asked (in the presence of others, while multitasking and so forth).
The researchers also found that people are more likely to provide more thoughtful and honest answers in a text message even when responding under distracting conditions like shopping or walking.
Rather than "sweat" confessions from criminals, will police detectives text confessions from them? Will expensive polygraph tests be replaced with simple face-to-face texting sessions? Probably not. But the next time you want an honest answer from someone, you might want to try texting them rather than talking to them.