It's easier to lie if someone isn't looking you in the eye. But researchers at Cornell University are hoping to catch fibbers through their writing (e-mail and text messaging) with lie-detection software that would flag suspicous correspondence. The software is only in the idea stage but the concept appealed to the National Science Foundation so much it awarded the researchers $680,000 to see if it could actually work.
The researchers point to certain "tells" that give liars away.
Passive voice, verb tense changes, and even noun or verb selection can suggest a person is lying, (said Cornell communications professor Jeff Hancock). Hancock said another indicator of written deception is the decreased use of the word "I," which is most likely an attempt to create distance.
"One of the reasons we think that works as an indicator is that pronoun use is subconscious," he said.
In interactive speech, like instant messaging and some dialogues, liars go into a "persuasive mode" and increase the length of their message by 30% to describe and explain situations, he said. Other factors -- such as individual beliefs about behavior, whether someone is accused of something or interacting with an accuser -- can complicate the process.
"In person, normally people say less because they don't want to be caught," Hancock said during an interview Thursday. "In a monologue, you may say less because you don't want to talk yourself into a trap. It's certainly not a simple thing," Hancock said. "It's a very complex problem. From a theoretical point of view, it's really fascinating."
Researchers in Canada studied thousands of e-mails from Enron for cues, like the use of the first person singular ("I") and negative emotion, and they became interested in about 10 e-mails that appeared to be unique.
"Sure enough, they stood out as problematic and of interest to the legal team," Hancock said.