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Promises and lies: can observers detect deception in written messages

Author

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  • Jingnan Chen

    () (University of Exeter)

  • Daniel Houser

    () (George Mason University)

Abstract

We design a laboratory experiment to examine predictions of trustworthiness in a novel three-person trust game. We investigate whether and why observers of the game can predict the trustworthiness of hand-written communications. Observers report their perception of the trustworthiness of messages, and make predictions about the senders’ behavior. Using observers’ decisions, we are able to classify messages as “promises” or “empty talk.” Drawing from substantial previous research, we hypothesize that certain factors influence whether a sender is likely to honor a message and/or whether an observer perceives the message as likely to behonored: the mention of money; the use of encompassing words; and message length. We find that observers have more trust in longer messages and “promises”; promises that mention money are significantly more likely to be broken; and observers trust equally in promises that do and do not mention money. Overall, observers perform slightly better than chance at predicting whether a message will be honored. We attribute this result to observers’ ability to distinguish promises from empty talk, and to trust promises more than empty talk. However, within each of these two categories, observers are unable to discern between messages that senders will honor from those that they will not.

Suggested Citation

  • Jingnan Chen & Daniel Houser, 2017. "Promises and lies: can observers detect deception in written messages," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 20(2), pages 396-419, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:20:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10683-016-9488-x
    DOI: 10.1007/s10683-016-9488-x
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    7. Tim Lohse & Salmai Qari, 2019. "Gender Differences in Face-to-Face Deceptive Behavior," CESifo Working Paper Series 7995, CESifo.
    8. Urs Fischbacher & Jan Hausfeld & Baiba Renerte, 2020. "Strategic incentives undermine gaze as a signal of prosocial motives," TWI Research Paper Series 120, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
    9. Elias L Khalil & Nick Feltovich, 2018. "Moral licensing, instrumental apology and insincerity aversion: Taking Immanuel Kant to the lab," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 13(11), pages 1-24, November.
    10. Dwenger, Nadja & Lohse, Tim, 2019. "Do individuals successfully cover up their lies? Evidence from a compliance experiment," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 74-87.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Cheap talk; Deception detection; Trust; Trustworthiness;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games

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