Is Your Online Date a Liar? Research Reveals Ways to Tell

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How do you really know if the person at the other end of that online profile you’re browsing is genuine or some lying creep? There’s no easy ruleset (there never is), but a new study found there are several fascinating word-watching ways you can better predict whether someone’s telling the truth or just feeding you a line.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University wanted to know if deceptive online dating behavior correlated with what online daters said about themselves. The lack of physical interaction or social cues in an online environment (to say nothing of the abstract nature of text) makes it much easier to be deceptive. So if someone turns out to be a dirty rotten liar, could you figure that out beforehand by simply analyzing their online speech?

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To determine this, researchers compared the actual age, weight and height of 78 online daters to their online photos and profiles on several dating sites.

Among other things, the study found that:

  • Online daters were less likely to talk about subjects they lied about in their profiles.
  • Related to the first point, people who lied about their physical appearance online tended to use fewer eating-related words — instead, these people were more likely to throw in work- or achievement-related words. Put another way, online liars were more likely to attempt to compensate for their deceptions with other, more truthful details.
  • Deceptive online daters used fewer words in general (to avoid contradicting themselves, reasons the study) and wrote shorter profile descriptions.
  • Deceptive online daters were less likely to use self-referential “I” pronouns, e.g. I, my, me or mine.

That said, the study cautions these were far from perfect predictors, noting that about one-third of the profiles tested were misclassified (the researchers add that the number of profiles analyzed was relatively small, and “statistical classification” would have improved had the number been higher). But the results were encouraging in that deceptive profiles were correctly classified 63% of the time using linguistic cues, compared to less than 50% of the time based on average human perception skills, or plain old chance.

In the end, the only way to really know whether someone’s being duplicitous online is to go through the more arduous process of testing their claims against reality, which almost always means, at some point, meeting with that hypothetically special someone face-to-face.

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