Monday, May 10, 2010

Traces of Deception in Online Dating Profiles

Dr. Catalina Toma and Dr. Jeffrey T. Hancock from the Social Media Lab at Cornell University
is going to publish an outstanding paper
Toma, C. & Hancock, J.T. (in press, 2010). What lies beneath: The linguistic traces of deception in online dating profiles. Journal of Communication.

Any executive/researcher in the Online Dating Industry should carefully read that paper.

That paper investigates whether deceptions in online dating profiles correlate with changes in the way daters write about themselves in the open-ended portion of the profile, and whether those changes are detectable by either computerized linguistic analyses or human judges.
Computerized linguistic analyses (Study 1) found that profile deceptions manifested themselves through:
1) linguistic cues indicative of liars' emotions and cognitions, and
2) linguistic cues indicative of liars' strategic efforts to manage their self-presentations.

The technological affordances of the online dating space (i.e., asynchronicity, editability)
affected the production of cognitive linguistic cues more than that of emotional cues.
However, human judges (Study 2) were unable to capitalize on any of these cues, as they relied on a separate, and non-predictive, set of cues to assess daters' trustworthiness.

Toma & Hancock's findings have implications for theories concerned with deception, media and self-presentation, and also provide information for how writing style influences perceived trustworthiness.

One online environment for which deception has become particularly important is online dating. Online dating requires users to invest time, money and, most importantly, high hopes in finding potential mates.

Encountering deception in others' profiles can stall the process and shatter those hopes, which is why many users perceive deception as the main disadvantage of online dating and characterize online dating as taking a leap of faith. An important question, then, is whether deception is detectable in online dating profiles before meeting potential mates face-to-face. Does the profile itself provide any indication of the veracity of the online dating self-presentation?
Toma & Hancock examined that issue by taking a language-based approach to deception in online dating profiles. An emerging body of research .... has shown that liars often use words differently than truth-tellers.

The more online daters lied in their profiles, the more they distanced themselves psychologically from those deceptions by using fewer self-references and more negations.
The more online daters lied in their profiles, the FEWER negative emotion words they used.
When lying about their physical appearance, online daters used fewer words that can be associated with body size (i.e., eating and quantifiers), but more words related to their job success (i.e., work and achievement).
Liars used fewer words – presumably in order to avoid contradicting their previous deceptions.
The markers of cognitive complexity (i.e., exclusive words and motion words) were not significant predictors of profile deception, suggesting that the media affordances of asynchronicity and editability may have relieved the cognitive effects of deception.

Participants in Study 2 was called 'judges' and participants who provided the online dating self-descriptions was called 'daters'.
- judges' perceptions of the daters' trustworthiness were not accurate. The accuracy rate for the judges in categorizing daters into high versus low trustworthiness was 48.7%, not different from chance, suggesting that the judges were unable to classify daters on trustworthiness from their textual self-descriptions. Consistent with previous research on deception detection, an important reason for the low detection rates was the operation of the truth bias.
- judges made trustworthiness decisions largely based on HOW the targets talked, rather than on WHAT they said.

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