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Catching Facebook Fibs

Online daters intent on fudging their personal information have a big advantage: most people are terrible at identifying a liar. But new research is turning the tables on deceivers, using their own words.

Communications expert Catalina Toma says, "Generally, people don't want to admit they've lied, but we don't have to rely on the liars to tell us about their lies." Using personal descriptions written for Internet dating profiles, Toma and researcher Jeffrey Hancock have identified clues that reveal that the author was being deceptive.

The researchers compared the actual height, weight and age of 78 online daters to their profile information and photos on four matchmaking websites. A linguistic analysis of the group's written self-descriptions revealed patterns in the liars' writing. It turned out that the more deceptive a dater's profile was, the less likely the person was to use the first-person pronoun "I." Tomas says,

"Liars do this because they want to distance themselves from their deceptive statements," and they also tend to write shorter self-descriptions in their profiles. "They don't want to say too much," Toma says. "They less they write, the fewer untrue things they may have to remember and support later.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% of the time."

So now you know how to spot them! Do you do it too? About 80% of the 78 profiles in the study strayed from the truth on some level. Toma says, "Almost everybody lied about something, but the magnitude was often small."

Weight was the most frequent transgression, with women off by an average of 8.5 pounds and men missing by 1.5 pounds on average. Half lied about their height, and nearly 20% changed their age.

"Someday there may be software to tell you how likely it is that the cute person whose profile you're looking at is lying to you, or even that someone is being deceptive in an e-mail," Toma says. "But that may take a while."

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