Terri Kurtzberg, Rutgers Business School – Deception by Device

Does your device change how you interact with people online?

Terri Kurtzberg, professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, delves into this question.

Terri R. Kurtzberg, PhD, is a Professor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School, Newark and New Brunswick. Her areas of expertise include negotiation strategies and persuasion tactics, electronic communication, distraction, virtual work, and disability employment. Dr. Kurtzberg’s research has been quoted in media outlets such as The New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Time Magazine, CNN.com and on the BBC World Service. She is the recipient of multiple teaching and research awards, including Rutgers University’s most prestigious teaching honor, the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching as well as being listed among each the Poets & Quants Favorite EMBA Professors (2020) and the Top 50 Best Undergraduate Business School Professors (2021). She is the author of five books, on the topics of job negotiations, negotiating at home, distraction, virtual teams, and remote work. Other published work appears in journals such as Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Applied Psychology, Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review, and Social Justice Research.

Deception by Device

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A notification arrives. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing at that moment, you might see it and respond on your cell phone, or perhaps on a laptop instead. Does it matter? Is there a consequence to using one device over the other for making decisions or connecting with people?

In fact, there may be changes in what you decide and how you relate to other people, depending on what type of device you’re using. People seem more willing to lie to someone else, in the name of taking more for themselves, when they do tasks on their laptops instead of on their cell phones. Given that the two have nearly identical technical capabilities (they’re both just boxes with an electronic logic board), this is surprising.

Why does this happen? Partly, it seems to be because the laptop makes us think more about work and being “professional” (with all the associated “getting ahead at any cost” baggage) while the cell phone triggers thoughts of family and friends instead, where deception might be more out of bounds. This shows how important our psychological associations with objects can be—it’s not the thing itself, it’s what that thing makes us think about and feel that matters.

We live in a world where work happens from everywhere, and technology is our bridge. We tend to assume that we are exactly the same, making exactly the same decisions, regardless of where we are or what device we happen to have in hand. But, simply put, context matters, including the choice of technological tool. Everything from honesty to feedback to cooperation changed for the worse when we first migrated online, and so we need to better appreciate what may trigger our more ethical or our more devious sides. Over time, we’ll get more savvy about understanding how the human side of technology choices influence us.

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