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Post secret on paper, via app, not so much

In 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (New Riders Voices That Matter 2011) Susan Weinschenk, PH.D. quotes an interesting study that investigated if honesty varied according to the communication medium.

Charles Naquin (2010) from DePaul University … conducted research on honesty in people when using email versus pen and paper.

In one study, forty-eight graduate business students were each given $89 (imaginary money) to divide with their partner; they had to decide whether to tell their partner how much money was in the kitty, as well as how much of the money to share with their partner. One group communicated by email and the other group by a handwritten note. The group that wrote emails lied about the amount of money (92%) more than the group that was writing by hand (63%). The e-mail group was also less fair about sharing the money, and felt justified in not being honest or fair.

The study was repeated in a different context and scenario with managers given project funds and the results were the same. Those communicating via pen and paper were more honest than those who communicated electronically.

Weinschenk goes on to talk about “moral disengagement theory” and quotes other studies that look at truth telling on the phone, email, face to face and via instant messaging. She talks about the consequences of this for surveys, feedback and performance reviews.  Moral disengagement theory poses that greater distance is felt when the results as seen as less permanent and when less personal rapport is felt.

So is this what is happening on Post Secret? Scan the original website version of this phenomenon and you will find gut wrenching confessions written on postcards, scrawled, collaged, drawn and painted. Go to the app version and the mood changes completely. The submissions are electronically compiled from the camera roll and submitted to the collection.  The content switches from confession to proclamation, even affirmation. Where did the secrecy go? Did it vanish with the pen and paper?

The book is December’s reading for the UX Book Club. I haven’t been to one of these events before, but this time I have read the book so I will be keen to hear what others learnt from it and thought of it too.


Thank you Bec for lending me your Kindle so I could read the book and finally attend a UX Book Club with you.

Thank you Mimi for introducing me to Post Secret, and for the Friday laughs at the app submissions and cries at the web posts.

More about the book from the author herself at UXMAG.

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