How to spot a liar online

KASEY EDWARDS
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012
online dating
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DATER BEWARE: The real you is easy to hide when online dating.

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Tall, dark, rugged, blue-eyed, athletic, house-trained Tantric practitioner, loves pets and wants children, seeks woman comfortable in her own skin for intimate conversations over coffee and Ryan Gosling films’.

Sound too good to be true?

When it comes to internet dating, 86 per cent of people say that the profiles are littered with lies. After all, on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog, right?

Online daters prepare themselves to be underwhelmed. We expect the guy who looked and sounded like Brad Pitt online to rock up at the first date looking more like Danny DeVito.

His wedding ring is stashed in his pocket and his phone is switched to silent lest his efforts to mansplain ‘Where Feminism Goes Wrong’ be disturbed by calls from his two former wives’ lawyers hassling him about unpaid child support.

But, the surprising thing is, that while people do indeed lie on their profiles, they mostly only tell little white lies.

A study conducted by researchers from Cornell and Michigan State Universities, ‘The Truth about Lying in Online Dating Profiles’, looked at the accuracy gap between daters’ online profiles and the reality.

Forty male and forty female online daters were recruited from online dating sites Match.com, Yahoo Personal, Webdate and American Singles.

The researchers looked at the height, weight and age the daters reported in their profile and compared this to their actual statistics. Height, weight and age were chosen as the measures because they’re objective, unlike say, taste in art.

For example, if someone says they love literature and it turns out that their bookshelves consist solely of the collected works of Tom Clancy, the odd ZOO Magazine and a like-new copy of To Kill a Mockingbird left over from their school days, they may be a liar. Alternatively, they may just have really crappy taste.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that two thirds of participants lied about their weight, and half lied about their height. Age was the least lied about trait.

Men and women lied just as frequently. However, men lied more often about their height, pretending to be taller, and women were more likely to lie about their weight.

But the most surprising finding was that the people didn’t lie very much. In fact, the more generous among us might even call the discrepancy rounding errors. On average, people added one centimetre to their actual height — although at least one participant claimed he was 7.5cms taller than he was in reality.

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Women tended to under-report their weight by an average of 3.8kgs but the lies ranged from 16kgs heavier and 9kgs lighter on their profiles compared with reality.

Not only do we expect people to lie on internet dating profiles, studies show that most of us think that a bit of lying is actually okay.

A further study published in 2011 in New Media & Society found that people considered lying acceptable if it was possible that the lie could become true in the future.

For example, you can get away with telling potential partners that you’re 5kgs lighter than you are, a non-smoker, or slightly more senior at work, because it’s possible that these traits might change. Many online daters figured that these weren’t deceptions, so much as aspirations.

However things that can’t be changed in the near future, such as losing a significant amount of weight, growing a few inches, no longer having children, erasing a criminal record, or transitioning from mail boy to CEO, are deal breakers and are unlikely to lead to a second date.

How, then, do you tell the keepers from the fibbers?

In an ideal world it would be great to run a lie detector app over an internet dating profile to save yourself the lipstick and awkwardness of meeting somebody who had misrepresented themselves. Unfortunately this is some way off. Since online profiles can be edited over time, they allow people to build up quite complex deceptions

Nevertheless, researchers have uncovered some patterns within the free-text sections of the profile that could indicate lying.

For example liars tend to say less in their profiles. The researchers suggest that this is because they don’t want to contradict previous deceptions.

Similarly, when they wanted to hide or distract from a particular feature, they used fewer words to describe that aspect of themselves. For example, people who lied about their weight used fewer words about food and eating.

nd people who posted an inaccurate photo of themselves tended to over-compensate by talking up other positive and accurate features of their lives.

So in a nutshell, if you are in the dating market, and you stumble across someone who hasn’t written much, but has a list of accomplishment rivaled only by Steve Jobs, then you could end up meeting that proverbial dog.

Then again, this lie detection method is an imprecise science, so he may be that tantric, domesticated conversationalist after all.

- Daily Life

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