Want an honest answer? SMS

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London - Being “put on the spot” by a face-to-face question may NOT be the best way to get a truthful answer.

People tend to tell the truth more when asked questions by SMS – because they have more time to think.

The SMSes may include sensitive information that the person may not normally reveal – such as how much they drink, or how much (or little) they exercise.

While the police are unlikely to switch to interviewing suspects by iPhone, it’s a good way to elicit precise, true answers from friends.

“The preliminary results of our study suggest that people are more likely to disclose sensitive information in text messages than in voice interviews,” says Fred Conrad, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Michigan.

“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 may see on your phone.”

When SMSing, people are less likely to “round” figures up or down, and more likely to give precise answers.

“We believe people give more precise answers when texting because there’s just not the time pressure in a largely asynchronous mode like text as there is in phone interviews,” says Conrad. “As a result, respondents are able to take longer to arrive at more accurate answers.”

Conrad carried out the study with Michael Schober, a professor of psychology and dean of the graduate faculty at the New School for Social Research in New York.

Their research team included cognitive psychologists, psycholinguists, survey methodologists and computer scientists from both universities, as well as collaborators from AT&T.

“We’re in the early stages of analysing our findings,” says Schober. “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 by text.”

It’s still not clear whether frequent texters or young people are more prone to telling the truth.

For the study, the researchers recruited about 600 iPhone users through the web, offering them iTunes Store incentives to take part in the study. Their goals were to see whether responses to the same questions differed depending on several variables: whether the questions were asked by SMS or voice, whether a human or a computer asked the questions, and whether the environment, including the presence of other people or the likelihood of multitasking, affected the answers.

Among the questions that respondents answered more honestly by SMS than speech were:

l In a typical week, how often do you exercise?

l During the past 30 days, on how many days did you have five or more drinks on the same occasion?

Among the questions that respondents answered more precisely by SMS, providing fewer rounded numerical responses, were:

l During the past month, how many movies did you watch?

l How many songs do you have on your iPhone?

Conrad and Schober also find that people are more likely to provide thoughtful and honest responses by SMS even when they’re in busy, distracting environments.

“This is the case even when people are likely to be multitasking – shopping or walking, for example.” – Daily Mail

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