How to detect online deception in dating profiles: research findings provide cues to deception
Catalina Toma and Jeffrey Hancock dared to examine the words used by online daters in ‘Reading Between the Lines: Linguistic Cues to Deception in Online Dating Profiles’ (2010). They wanted to determine if deception could be identified through linguistic cues in online self-descriptions.
Their conclusion: Yes, there are indeed indicators of deception in online profiles. However, one must be careful not to paint the devil blacker than he is: “Lies did correlate with changes in the way online daters wrote about themselves in their open-ended descriptions, although their self-descriptions themselves were mostly accurate.” (Toma & Hancock, 2010)
What the study found is people who attempt deception in their online profiles tend to use fewer self-references in an attempt to avoid negative emotions involved with making false statements. Deceptive profiles also tended to use fewer negations or exclusion terms, such as “except”, “but” and “without”. These terms increased the cognitive workload for a deceiver. Such terms are easy enough to manage if one is drawing upon memory. However, if you’re trying to reconcile imagination and fabrication, mental processing increases dramatically – i.e. it’s harder for people to lie than it is to be honest. Therefore, people trying to deceive use simpler language.
A result that surprised the researchers was a tendency for deceivers to use few negative emotional words. The hypothesis was that, due to negative emotions associated with deception (guilt, shame, dissonance, etc.), a dodgy individual would communicate more negative emotion in some form, thus avoiding the inevitable dissonance associated with saying things one does not feel. This was not found to be the case. Misleading profiles had fewer negative emotional words in the self-description section. The researchers suggest deceivers may avoid appearing negative or were attempting to secure positive first impressions.
Advice for online daters is summarised below.
Deception in online dating profiles:
- Men tend to misrepresent their height and social standing (i.e. we are generally shorter and less likeable than we say online).
- Women tend to misrepresent their weight and physical appearance (i.e. female online daters are heavier and more homely than they say).
- Deceptive profiles use fewer self-references (they will attempt to dissociate from false information).
- Deceivers will tend to use more negations in their self descriptions e.g. “no”, “not”, “never”.
- Untruthful self-descriptions correlate with fewer negative emotional words.
- Misleading profiles will contain fewer overall words (allowing the deceiver wiggle-room in their claims due to vagueness and the incomplete information).
These findings were independent of the time or flexibility of media used i.e. regardless of preparation, the cues are valid indicators of misleading information.
Curiously, the findings may generalise to other social platforms, such as Facebook (there will be exceptions of course).
Remain vigilant dear Love-Seekers, use this information well and best wishes for your online adventures!
Toma, C. L., Hancock, J. T., 2010, Reading Between the Lines: Linguistic Cues to Deception in Online Dating Profiles, CSCW, February 6-10, Cornell University, Ithaca NY, USA