Promises and Lies: Can Observers Detect Deception

36 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2013  

Jingnan Chen

University of Exeter

Daniel Houser

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: May 2, 2013

Abstract

Although economic and social relationships can involve deception (Gneezy 2005), such relationships are often governed by informal contracts that require trust (Berg et al.1995). While important advances have been made concerning deception in economics, the research has focused little on written forms of communication. Are there certain systematic cues that signal written communications as dishonest? Are those signals accurately detected and used by message receivers? We fill this gap by studying messages written in a novel three-person trust game; (we call it the “Mistress Game”). We find that: (1) messages that use encompassing terms, or a greater number of words, are significantly more likely to be viewed as promises; and (2) promises that mention money are significantly more likely to be trusted. Notwithstanding the latter finding, we find senders who mention money within their promises to be significantly less likely to keep their word than those who do not; observers respond to cues but in the wrong way.

Suggested Citation

Chen, Jingnan and Houser, Daniel, Promises and Lies: Can Observers Detect Deception (May 2, 2013). GMU Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science Department of Economics Paper No. 13-14. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2280211 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2280211

Jingnan Chen (Contact Author)

University of Exeter ( email )

Streatham Court
Exeter, EX4 4RJ
United Kingdom

Daniel Houser

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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