Psychologists at the University of Leicester are helping police with their enquiries with a project that aims to investigate so-called "texting fingerprints" which could be used to identify criminal suspects.
The forensic linguistics study based in the Forensic Section of Leicester's
of Psychology will examine how well individuals can be identified by their
A criminal case where such an approach was used involved a murder investigation a few years ago. At the 2002 trial an alibi was broken based on evidence that the murderer and not the victim had sent crucial messages from a mobile phone.
Text analysis revealed that the messages had not been written by the victim, but had been faked to deflect suspicion from the killer as there were a number of differences in the texting styles between the victim and murderer.
The researchers cite this case as proof positive that linguistic analysis can be a useful tool to reveal secrets within criminal investigations.
The University of Leicester study aims to develop the technique further by investigating text language and style.
A six-month project will assess similarities and differences in texting style between messages sent by individuals and within and between networks of people who frequently text one another.
The researchers are inviting people to help them with the study by completing an anonymous online questionnaire.
Although forensic authorship analysis is a growing area of research, this is the first study to focus on mobile phone texting.
The research is being conducted by forensic linguist Dr Tim Grant and forensic researcher Kim Drake at the university's School of Psychology.
"Being able to say who wrote a particular text message sent from a particular phone has many potential forensic applications," said Dr Grant.
"As texting is a relatively new mode of communication and a particularly informal way of using language there is not a strong expectation that texters will follow linguistic conventions.
"This freedom therefore allows for significant individual differences in text messaging style which can be used to identify a text's author."
Dr Grant added that no previous study has systematically studied the linguistic consistency and variation in individual texting styles.
The researchers are looking to recruit at least 100 anonymous volunteers who will each be asked to contribute 10 text messages. Potential participants can visit the University of Leicester Text Message Study Webpage for more details.
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