MAS 961  ·  Techno-Identity  ·  Spring 2006

04.09 deception

SIgnaling theory is at heart a theory about preventing deception. We need not worry about what keeps signals honest when the communicators are exactly aligned in their intention, for then neither would have motivation to lie. But such alignment is rare and deception, or at least the motivation to deceive, is ubiquitous. There are the big lies, ones that are deliberately told, meant to deceive, and with serious consequences: the robber disguised as a meter reader to gain access to a house, the false alibi that lands an innocent person in jail. There are little lies, some to maintain self-image, some to avoid hurting the feelings of others. The deceptive remarks and actions are signals, they are intentional communicative events that are meant to influence the beliefs and actions of the receivers. Deceptions are often discovered because of unintentional cues - changes in behavior and demeanor that indicate that something is not right.


Ekman, Paul.

   Lying and deception. 1997. In Memory for everyday and emotional events, ed. P.A. Ornstein N.L. Stein, B. Tversky & C. Brainerd: 333-347. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bella DePaola Lying in everyday life
Hancock, J. T., J. Thom-Santelli, and T. Ritchie. Deception and design: The impact of communication technology on lying behavior. 2004. In SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems:129-134. Vienna, Austria: ACM Press.
link for non-subscribers

[optional] DePaola et al Cues to deception
[optional]Vrij, Aldert and Samantha Mann 2001. Telling and detecting lies in a high-stake situation: the case of a convicted murderer. Applied Cognitive Psychology 15, no. 2: 187-203.
link for non-subscribers



  1. Read the papers.

2. Answer the following questions:

  • Why do (some) lies fail? Which of these factors has to do with the beliefs and intentions of the sender?  Of the receiver? What are some external factors?
  • Compare face to face communication, the telephone and email in terms of how easy it is to lie / detect lying. Would this vary depending on the seriousness of the lie?

3. Describe two cases of deception. These can be serious lies or everyday lies, told with malice or good intentions - but please make your two examples different. They can be drawn from your own experience, something you have run across online, in the news, or in literature. What was the deceiver's intention? What were the costs to the deceiver in lying? In being caught? What were the benefits?  What were the costs to the recipient? Were there any benefits? What were the costs/ benefits of detecting the lie? What was the effect of the context (e.g. was it in person or mediated? did this matter?)

Please link your essays by midday on Tuesday.