The Finer Points of Lying Online

Theoretical Framework and Methods

This article has a strong theoretical foundation with Bandura’s moral disengagement theory.  The three main theoretical reasons for their belief that people will lie more in email is that individuals view email as less permanent, an outlet for less restrained behavior, and less personal.  A key element of this article is the fact that email affords individuals more psychological distance within which to misbehave.

Studies one and two were valuable in establishing first that there was a marked difference in lying over email versus with pen and paper.  Furthermore the design was set up to make sure the sequence of making the offer first and measuring justification made no difference.  Study 3 was the most important since it included participants who had previous interactions, would have some contact in the future, would receive minimal monetary incentives, and had knowledge that if they lied they would be discovered.  All three studies yielded findings that participants using email lied a good deal more than those using paper and pen.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the greatest strengths of this article is that the authors used a strong theoretical argument and applied it to a relatively new and increasingly important method of business communication.  The findings add value to the current understanding of how email is used as opposed to pen and paper communication as well as prompting valuable future areas of research.

The authors correctly point out that even though one of their theoretical arguments is that email can be perceived as less permanent for reasons such as the ease with which it may be deleted and the fact that it seems intangible this is not actually the case.  They explain that these records rather than being less permanent are far more permanent than physical records. The authors also note the potential that lying through email or through electronic submission of information may have in areas such as real estate, online tax filing, and even in university settings.  This timely article has real-world relevance as electronic communication becomes an increasingly important part of business.

As with any study there are weaknesses that must be further investigated.  First, business school class peers are not the same as work colleagues or long-term friends.  These are short term relationships and even though there were small monetary incentives the implications for being found a liar are not the same as a true work setting.  Second, all of the samples had very similar demographic characteristics, situational contexts, and minimal consequences for lying.

Potential Future Actions

Giving a wider range of demographics and situational contexts would be very valuable to this research.  Furthermore, exploring how the relationship between those communicating over email has both financial and relational implications.


Naquin, C., Kurtzberg, T., & Belkin, L. (2010). The finer points of lying online: E-mail versus pen and paper. Journal of Applied Psychology95(2), 387-394.

Posted: September 29th, 2012 | Author: | Uncategorized | No Comments »

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