By: Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Texting may be a better way to get at the truth than voice-based surveys.
People were more likely to disclose sensitive information via texting and give more precise responses when texting as opposed to voice communication, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the New School of Social Research in New York City.
"This is sort of surprising since many people thought that texting would decrease the likelihood of disclosing sensitive information because it creates a persistent, visual record of questions and answers that others might see on your phone and in the cloud," said Fred Conrad, a cognitive psychologist and director of the Program in Survey Methodology at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
Conrad conducted the study with Michael Schober, a professor of psychology and dean of the graduate faculty at the New School for Social Research. When texting, people were also less likely to engage in "satisficing"--a survey industry term referring to the common practice of giving good enough, easy answers, like rounding to multiples of 10 in numerical responses, for example.
"We believe people give more precise answers via texting because there's just not the time pressure ... that there is in phone interviews," Conrad said. "As a result, respondents are able to take longer to arrive at more accurate answers."
People were more likely to provide thoughtful and honest responses via text messages even when they're in busy, distracting environments, the researchers said. The researchers say the findings are preliminary.
"We're in the early stages of analyzing our findings," Schober said. "But so far it seems that texting may reduce some respondents' tendency to shade the truth or to present themselves in the best possible light in an interview--even when they know it's a human interviewer they are communicating with via text. What we cannot yet be sure of is who is most likely to be disclosive in text. Is it different for frequent texters, or generational, for example?"
The researchers recruited approximately 600 iPhone-users on Craigslist, through Google Ads, and from Amazon's Mechanical Turk, offering them iTunes Store incentives to participate in the study.
Their goals were to see whether responses to the same questions differed depending on several variables: whether the questions were asked via text or voice, whether a human or a computer asked the questions, and whether the environment, including the presence of other people and the likelihood of multitasking, affected the answers. Examples of questions answered more honestly via text than speech:
• In a typical week, about how often do you exercise?
• During the past 30 days, on how many days did you have five or more drinks on the same occasion?
The authors were motivated by changes in the way people communicate which could impact the way survey industry conducts its business.
About one in five U.S. households only use cell phones and no longer have landline phones.
Cell-only households are typically not surveyed even though they tend to differ in important ways from households with landline phones.
Also, more people are using text messages on mobile phone. And texting is now the preferred form of communication among many people in their teens and 20s in the United States.
Texting may be a better way to get at the truth than voice-based surveys. People were more likely to disclose sensitive information via texting and give more precise in their responses when texting