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Lying to appear honest
Keywords: Dishonesty, ethicality, decision-making,
Abstract: People try to avoid appearing dishonest. Although efforts to avoid appearing dishonest can often reduce lying, we argue that, at times, the desire to appear honest can lead people to lie. We hypothesize that people may “lie to appear honest” in cases where the truth is highly favorable to them, such that telling the truth might make them appear dishonest to others. A series of studies provided robust evidence for our hypothesis. Lawyers, MTurk participants and university students indicated in response to realistic scenarios that they would under-report favorable outcomes to avoid appearing dishonest. Furthermore, in a behavioral game involving monetary prizes in the lab, participants who had a very large number of wins reported fewer wins; they lied and incurred a monetary cost to avoid looking like liars. We find that people’s tendency to under-report is driven by their valid concern that others would think that they have over-reported.