It’s Easier to Deceive via e-Mail

Topic: Workplace Deviance, Ethics
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2010)
ArticleThe finer points of lying online: E-mail versus pen and paper
Authors: C.E. Naquin, T.R. Kurtzberg, and L.Y. Belkin
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

While lying and deception may come easily to some (certain politicians come to mind…), research suggests that generally, people find face-to-face deception to be more difficult than deception through a communication medium (telephone, letter, etc.).

In a recent article on the topic, Naquin, Kurtzberg, and Belkin (2010) hypothesized that deception (lying) may be even more likely via email than pen and paper communication.  In their series of 3 studies, Naquin et al. showed that although deception occurred quite frequently for participants using both (e-mail vs. pen and paper) communication mediums, deception was indeed more common through email and the extent of deception (how big the lie was) tended to be greater via email.

The authors further demonstrated that this was due to people finding it easier to justify deception when communicating via email. Importantly, however, the first two studies utilized an artificial game with no “real” consequences for deception, as would certainly not be the case in a work setting (e.g., IRS audit).  Thus, Naquin and colleagues conducted a third study with full-time managers working on a more realistic (albeit not real) simulation.

In this study, deception was revealed to others, thus, providing real consequences to the deceiver.  Nevertheless, the results were largely the same for all three studies, suggesting that even in the face of consequences; people tend to engage in more deception via email to promote self-interests.

Unfortunately, Naquin and colleagues’ paper highlights a dark side of human nature and suggests that the media through which employees communicate can impact their propensity to lie and engage in deception.  The authors suggest that their findings may also point to a general tendency for people to more easily justify unethical behavior via online media.  These findings are perhaps even more disturbing when we consider the frequency with which business is conducted online.

Now…what expenses can I think of to write-off this year?

Naquin, C.E., Kurtzberg, T.R., & Belkin, L.Y. (2010). The finer points of lying online: E-mail versus pen and paper. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 387-394.