Recently, a social scientist named Dr. Eileen Chou conducted a series of experiments to study laypeople’s perceptions of various types of e-signatures compared to a handwritten signature. In general, e-signatures were perceived as less trustworthy and the associated document was perceived as more likely to be breached.
In one of her studies, Dr. Chou had nearly 300 research participants read a contract. Unknown to them, the research participants had been assigned to one of six different groups. The contracts seen and read by the participants in each group were identical in every respect except one – the type of signature on the document. One group read a contract with a hand signature. The other five groups read the identical contract with one of five different types of e-signatures – a check box, a PIN, an avatar, a typed name, or a software generated signature (essentially a font that looks somewhat similar to handwriting). The participants were not asked to focus on the signature, nor were they asked any question about the signature. The signature was simply there as part of the overall document.
After reading the contract, the participants answered a series of questions. The same questions were asked regardless of which group the participant was in. The questions included several about the likelihood that the contract would be breached. Dr. Chou then conducted a statistical analysis to compare the results of each group against each other group. Her statistically significant findings were that participants in the hand signature group believed the contract was less likely to be breached than the participants in any of the five e-signature groups. Again, it was the exact same contract in every group. But, putting a hand signature on the document resulted in participants showing a stronger belief that the contract would not be breached. Dr. Chou also found that, of the five e-signature groups, the participants in the software-generated signatures group had the lowest belief that the contract would be breached, whereas the participants in the avatar signatures group showed the highest belief that the contract would be breached. Interestingly, of the five e-signatures, the software-generated signatures look the most like a real signature and avatars arguably resemble a real signature the least.