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"Text Effects" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Text messaging is a surprisingly good way to get candid responses to sensitive questions, according to a research team at the University of Michigan and the New School for Social Research.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Do you solemnly swear to text the truth--the whole truth, and NBTT?

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Ok, say you're on the phone. Are you more likely to be truthful when texting or talking? To find out, researchers at the University of Michigan and The New School for Social Research recruited 600 iPhone users. They asked them sensitive questions over the phone via different modes: By human voice, by computer voice, by texting. Questions like: "In a typical week, how often do you exercise?" And questions about drinking habits.

You might think people would be more honest when speaking than texting, since texting creates a visual record of the answer. But the results showed the opposite: People were more likely to be candid in text messages than in voice interviews. It seems that when texting, some of the interviewees' tendencies to 'shade' the truth to present themselves in the best light were diminished even though they were texting a live person.

The study also found people were more precise when texting--doing less number rounding when answering questions like "how many songs do you have on your phone?" The researchers surmise that with more time to consider, you're more likely to give a more accurate answer.

With texting now the preferred means of communication for many teens and 20-somethings, it's not only how we communicate that's changing--it could be communication itself--and that, my BFF, is no lie.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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