Who Knew?

Fascinating insights from researchers around the world. 

Insights: Can You Spot an Online Liar?

You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, but is there any reliable way to sort the fact from the fiction? Online dating profiles represent a difficult-to-crack mix of truth, exaggeration, and pure fabrication, and a new study reported in the Journal of Communication finds that we are terrible at figuring out which is which. But all hope is not lost: Ignore your gut and trust the science. You’ll be calling Tommy99’s bluff in no time.

Gut: What We Look For

“You should be tall; you should like dogs; you know who you are”—daters who use a high number of “you” pronouns are perceived as untrustworthy. Using “we” makes a reader more likely to identify with the profile’s author, notes Catalina Toma, the study’s lead author. Vagueness is suspect (are you glossing over the facts?), and “articles are a sign of concreteness in language,” says Toma. We’re more likely to believe a profile that uses plenty of a’s and the’s. When people go on and on about their parents, or their cooking ability, or pretty much anything at all, it makes us want to trust them. “The more we feel we know about a person, the more we like them,” says Toma.

Science: What We Should Look For

Liars are not eager to take ownership of their lies. To distance themselves, they use the pronoun “I” less often than honest people. Beware of smoke and mirrors. Someone who lies about their appearance will distract a reader from their embellishments by talking about their achievements instead. The act of lying is more cognitively difficult than telling the truth, so profiles riddled with deception tend to be shorter. “Liars produce fewer total words,” says Toma, “so they don’t contradict themselves.”

Who Knew?