A personal model of trumpery: Deception detection in a real-world high-stakes setting

Sophie van der Zee, Ronald Poppe, Alice Havrileck, Aurelien Baillon

Language use reveals information about who we are and how we feel1-3. One of the pioneers in text analysis, Walter Weintraub, manually counted which types of words people used in medical interviews and showed that the frequency of first-person singular pronouns (i.e., I, me, my) was a reliable indicator of depression, with depressed people using I more often than people who are not depressed4. Several studies have demonstrated that language use also differs between truthful and deceptive statements5-7, but not all differences are consistent across people and contexts, making prediction difficult8. Here we show how well linguistic deception detection performs at the individual level by developing a model tailored to a single individual: the current US president. Using tweets fact-checked by an independent third party (Washington Post), we found substantial linguistic differences between factually correct and incorrect tweets and developed a quantitative model based on these differences. Next, we predicted whether out-of-sample tweets were either factually correct or incorrect and achieved a 73% overall accuracy. Our results demonstrate the power of linguistic analysis in real-world deception research when applied at the individual level and provide evidence that factually incorrect tweets are not random mistakes of the sender.

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