Offbeat science: how to detect a person who is lying by SMS?

How do you know if the content of a text message or a message on a social network is really true? Although there is little clue, a later but also shorter response may be a sign that it contains a lie, according to one study.

Will we now have to time the response time of the SMS we receive to check whether they contain lies or not?  © Jaren S. Wilkey, BYU Photos

After an uninterrupted exchange of SMS or messages on a social network , your interlocutor is less quick to respond? Maybe he’s cooking the meal, making a phone call, or talking to someone. Or, if the last question took a little awkward turn, is he up to a lie. Because according to a study published in the journal ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems , there are some signs that can alert you to the veracity of the words that we receive in digital messages . And the extension of the response time does not bode well..

The context: how to detect a liar on Facebook?

The Man is a big talker and tells a lot of stories. But these are not always true. Yet, according to Tom Meservy, a researcher at Brigham Young University (United States), despite the common practice of this bad habit, we are bad at spotting a lie : we only spot it 54% of the time. A flaw that mythomaniacs of all kinds can take advantage of. All the more so when communication takes place digitally, using modern tools: SMS , instant messaging or social networks .

Indeed, in these cases, impossible to detect the small tremolo in the voice of the one who distorts the truth, nor to observe expressions of the face or the body which would betray his speech. A 2011 study published in Philpapers even confirms that this makes us more prone to lying. So how do you spot liars by text? Tom Meservy, accompanied by four colleagues, sought to measure the signals which could raise suspicion of the lie. And he detected several of them.

The study: shorter messages that take longer to arrive

In all, more than 100 students from two US universities had to answer 30 questions asked by a computer program specially designed for the occasion. Participants were asked to lieapproximately half the time, while different parameters were measured.

In all, the authors collected 1,590 messages telling the truth and 1,572 containing false statements. Analysis showed that  lies  took about 10% longer to be sent, were shorter (fewer words), but the response was more often broken down into multiple messages. Contrary to what they thought, the lexical richness does not change, whatever the case.

The outside eye: towards a lie detector … in text messages

These data, which are difficult to measure on a human scale, constitute the first indicators. But the study, carried out on a small sample, which is moreover not representative, did not take place under real conditions either. The authors are aware of this and have already announced that they want to deepen their investigation. They even plan to work with the famous Kinect camera , to study the behavioral signs associated with lying.

As for this study, it does not seek to explain why this digital content takes longer to be sent. Common sense leads us to believe that this extra time is the time to think it over to stir up a whole bogus story. It only works to identify the characteristic signals found in false digital messages, to help develop a tool capable of detecting unreliable SMS. So the die-hard liars will have better watch out!

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