Washington, Sept 26 : Lying comes easy to office-goers when they use email for communication - even more so than the traditional pen-and-paper, suggests a pair of new studies.
According to the studies, workers have a tendency to lie more often in e-mail rather than in more traditional kinds of written communications, like pen-and-paper.
And surprisingly, the studies show that people actually feel justified when lying using e-mail.
"There is a growing concern in the workplace over e-mail communications, and it comes down to trust. You're not afforded the luxury of seeing non-verbal and behavioral cues over e-mail. And in an organizational context, that leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation and, as we saw in our study, intentional deception," said Liuba Belkin, co-author of the studies and an assistant professor of management at Lehigh University.
The results of the studies are reported in the paper, "Being Honest Online: The Finer Points of Lying in Online Ultimatum Bargaining," coauthored by Belkin, along with Terri Kurtzberg of Rutgers University and Charles Naquin of DePaul University.
In the first study, they gave 48 full-time MBA students 89 dollars to divide between themselves and another fictional party, who only knew the dollar amount fell somewhere between 5 dollars and 100 dollars. There was one pre-condition: the other party had to accept whatever offer was made to them.
Using either e-mail or pen-and-paper communications, the MBA students reported the size of the pot-truthful or not-and how much the other party would get.
Students using e-mail lied about the amount of money to be divided over 92 percent of the time, while less then 64 percent lied about the pot size in the pen-and-paper condition. The rate of lying was almost 50 percent greater between the two groups.
E-mailers also said they felt more justified in awarding the other party just 29 dollars out of a total pot of about 56 dollars. Pen-and-paper students were a little friendlier, however; on average, they passed along almost 34 dollars out of a misrepresented pot of about 67 dollars.
"Keep in mind that both of these media-e-mail and pen-and-paper-are text only. Neither has greater 'communication bandwidth' than the other. Yet we still see a dramatic difference," said Naquin.
In order to find out if a shared sense of identity reduces an e-mailer's impulse to lie, the researchers set up a second, related study of 69 full-time MBA students. The results of that study indicated the more familiar e-mailers are with each other, the less deceptive their lies would be. But they would still lie, regardless of how well they identified with each other.
"These findings are consistent with our other work that shows that e-mail communication decreases the amount of trust and cooperation we see in professional group-work, and increases the negativity in performance evaluations, all as opposed to pen-and-paper systems. People seem to feel more justified in acting in self-serving ways when typing as opposed to writing," explained Kurtzberg.