Study: We All Tell Lies Over the Phone

ByABC News
February 24, 2004, 11:36 AM

Feb. 25, 2004 — -- You're supposed to go to a business meeting tonight, but you've got a hot date you would rather keep, so how are you most likely to lie to your boss about why you won't be at the meeting?

In a face to face conversation? Or on the telephone? Or by e-mail where the boss can't see you, or hear the inflections in your voice, or even be certain it's really you who's spouting that fib?

The weapon of choice, it turns out, is the telephone. People lie more often over the telephone than in any other form of communication, according to new research out of Cornell University. And if you fire off an e-mail to the boss, you're probably going to tell her you never wanted to go to that boring meeting anyway, because you're far more likely to tell the truth in an e-mail than in a face to face meeting, or over the phone, or through instant messaging.

Psychologist Jeff Hancock, an assistant professor of communications at Cornell, has been studying how and why we lie for some time now, and his research supports a growing body of evidence showing that we humans lie all the time. But that's not necessarily cause for alarm.

"Lies aren't all bad," Hancock says. "A lot of the time they are benign, and a lot of the time they are beneficial," to someone else if not ourselves.

Most often, we lie because it just makes our lives easier, according to Brandeis University's Leonard Saxe, who notes that society has conditioned us to shade the truth.

If you're late for work, and you tell the boss you overslept, you're probably going to get into more trouble that if you tell a lie, blaming your tardiness on heavy traffic.

So we do it all the time. Various studies show at least a fourth of our daily interactions with others involve lying, usually about something rather minor. Most often, we lie to avoid conflict, or to spare someone else's feelings.