The linguistic traces of deception in online dating profiles


My research examines how people understand and relate to one another when interacting via communication technologies (online dating, social network sites, blogs, etc.).

I focus on the impact of communication technologies on relational processes such as: Impression management and impression formation Deception and trust Self-worth, self-esteem and emotional well-being Interpersonal attraction and relationship development I am also interested in how language is produced and interpreted in computer-mediated contexts, especially as it relates to self-presenters' deceptiveness and perceived trustworthiness.

"But we don't have to rely on the liars to tell us about their lies.

We can read their handiwork." Using personal descriptions written for Internet dating profiles, Toma and Jeffrey Hancock, communication professor at Cornell University, have identified clues as to whether the author was being deceptive.

"The more deceptive the self-description, the fewer times you see 'I,' the more negation, the fewer words total -- using those indicators, we were able to correctly identify the liars about 65 percent of the time," Toma says.

A success rate of nearly two-thirds is a commanding lead over the untrained eye.

They conducted in-person interviews of 80 online dating service users who previously completed online profiles.

Participants rated the accuracy of their own self-descriptions, a process that could be prone not so much to outright lying, but at the least, to self-deception or exaggeration.

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However, these sites also can trap the novice unless you know how to spot an online liar.

In a second leg of their study, Toma and Hancock asked volunteers to judge the daters' trustworthiness based solely on the written self-descriptions posted on their online profiles.

"We asked them to tell us how trustworthy the person who wrote each profile was.

The more deceptive a dater's profile, the less likely they were to use the first-person pronoun "I." "Liars do this because they want to distance themselves from their deceptive statements," Toma says. Daters who had lied about their age, height or weight or had included a photo the researchers found to be less than representative of reality, were likely to avoid discussing their appearance in their written descriptions, choosing instead to talk about work or life achievements.

The liars often employed negation, a flip of the language that would restate "happy" as "not sad" or "exciting" as "not boring." And the fabricators tended to write shorter self-descriptions in their profiles -- a hedge, Toma expects, against weaving a more tangled web of deception. The toolkit of language clues gave the researchers a distinct advantage when they re-examined their pool of 78 online daters.

The program analyzed the open-ended self-descriptions that participants included in their profiles.

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