Are people more honest when they text?
A study at the University of Michigan suggests not only that we are likely to tell the truth when we let our fingers do the talking, but that we're also more likely to give more detailed and precise answers to questions.
Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue.
My great friend, William Joel, has explained this repeatedly to me over the years. Yet, are there circumstances in which -- at least statistically -- people could be said to be a little more honest than usual?
For myself, the answer has always been simple: when they've had more than one bottle of Honig's fine 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
However, researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research are offering an alternative answer. They suggest that people are more honest when they're texting.
As the Huffington Post reported, these fine scientists believe that when we speak we're not remotely as honest as when we we let our fingers do the talking.
Indeed, in a press release not texted by the university, cognitive psychologist Fred Conrad said: "The preliminary results of our study suggest that people are more likely to disclose sensitive information via text messages than in voice interviews."
You might think this could not be possible. The minute you text, you leave real physical evidence of your sad human insincerity, if not your downright mendaciousness.
Almost as oddly, the researchers found that people were also more likely to give fuller, more open explanations when asked questions via text.
Their thesis is quaint. "We believe people give more precise answers via texting because there's just not the time pressure in a largely asynchronous mode like text that there is in phone interviews," said Conrad.
However, texting is surely one of the world's great new stimulus/instant response behaviors. I, for one, am convinced that I text far more quickly than I talk. It appeals to one's fast-twitch fibers even more than honking at yet another self-righteous cyclist.
Still, what Conrad and his partner -- psychology professor Michael Schober -- haven't yet concluded is whether these results skew toward those who are frequent texters or, for example, toward those who are merely 12 years old. (I have embedded one of the great child texting stories of all time, from author Adam Gopnik.)
The questions in this study were about important things, too. Yes, like exercise, music, and alcohol consumption patterns. And it seems that even when people were busy and multitasking, they still gave more honest answers by text.
Perhaps many people find it harder to lie in texts precisely because something is written down, rather than because they have more time.
We are all coming to learn that, whenever we use written technologies, the dark eyes of fate, justice, and maliciousness are on us at all times.
So, just in case it returns to haunt us, we become the person we want to be seen as, rather than the lying, cheating, no-good, venal individuals that we can be.