When a controversial and provocative newspaper publishes an article with the title “How to tell if women are lying to you in a text”, it’s only right that you should be a little suspicious.
To be fair, the piece links to a pre-print study by researchers at Cornell University, and claims that women use longer sentences and non-committal words when they want to deceive people via messaging apps. So how true is this? Let’s take a look.
The pre-print, uploaded to arXiv, explains how the team used a massive database of existing communiques, sent over an Android messaging system by a large number of men and women, including students and non-students. It points out that pre-existing studies investigating lying by text have had small sample sizes, and this piece of research aims to correct that.
Previous work shows that those seeking to lie in various formats use more personal pronouns, like “I” and “myself”, and that they tend to use vaguer sentences with less complex language and shorter lengths. Does the same apply via text?
Texts were analyzed for their choice of words, their content, the context in which they were used, and how factual they were based on later events. The researchers started with 1,703 conversations, and after removing all those that didn’t contain any lies, were left with 351.
In these conversations, it seems that both men and women use longer sentences when they intend to lie. Women’s sentences are 13 percent longer when they’re lying, whereas men have marginally longer (2 percent) sentences.
Although there are some differences in which self-oriented words (like “I’m” and “me”) are used, both men and women show slight increases in their frequencies when composing untruthful messages. The same applies to the variety and frequency of non-committal phrases like “probably” and “maybe”.
Curiously, when it came to students, deceptive sentences were 25 percent longer than truthful ones; in non-students, this factor was just 0.12 percent – and it’s not really clear why.
Both students and non-students use non-committal phrases like “probably” and “maybe” when intending to lie. Non-students showed an 18 percent increase in the use of such terms when they wanted to lie; incredibly, this figure jumped to 111 percent when it came to fib-telling students.
So yes, women do use longer sentences and non-committal words when lying by text – but so do men. The most bizarre finding of the paper, by far, is that students lie in a very different way to non-students.
The question, then, is why the headlines of certain places are centered on how women lie. We’d suspect that it’s playing into a narrative, but for the life of us, we can’t think of what that might be.