How can you tell if your online match is lying? Lovelorn liars leave linguistic leads. Online daters intent on fudging their personal information have a big advantage: Most people are terrible at identifying a liar. "Generally, people don't want to admit they've lied," says Catalina Toma, communication science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "But we don't have to rely on the liars to tell us about their lies. We can read their handiwork." Using personal descriptions written for Internet dating profiles, Toma and Jeffrey Hancock, a communication professor at Cornell University, have identified clues as to whether the authors of online dating profiles were being deceptive. The researchers compared the actual height, weight and age of 78 online daters to their profile information and photos on four matchmaking Web sites. A linguistic analysis of the group's written self-descriptions revealed patterns in the liars' writing.

Here are four ways to tell if someone is lying in an online dating profile:

1. The more deceptive a dater's profile, the less likely he or she was to use the first-person pronoun "I." Toma says, "Liars do this because they want to distance themselves from their deceptive statements."

2. Liars often used negation, a flip of the language that restates "happy" as "not sad" or "exciting" as "not boring."

3. Liars tended to write shorter self-descriptions in their profiles, which Toma says is a hedge against weaving a more tangled web of deception. "They don't want to say too much," Toma says. "Liars experience a lot of cognitive load. They have a lot to think about. The less they write, the fewer untrue things they may have to remember and support later."

4. Liars were also careful to skirt their own deception. Daters who had lied about their age, height or weight or had included a photo the researchers found to be less than representative of reality were likely to avoid discussing their appearance in their written descriptions, choosing instead to talk about work or life achievements. This toolkit of language clues gave the researchers a distinct advantage when they re-examined their pool of 78 online daters. "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 percent of the time," Toma says.

Online daters beware: About 80 percent of the 78 profiles in the study strayed from the truth on some level. "Almost everybody lied about something, but the magnitude was often small," Toma says.


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