Would I lie to you? On social preferences and lying aversion

Sjaak Hurkens and Navin Kartik

Abstract: This paper reinterprets the evidence on lying or deception presented in Gneezy (Am. Econ. Rev. 95(1):384–394, 2005). We show that Gneezy’s data are consistent with the simple hypothesis that people are one of two kinds: either a person will never lie, or a person will lie whenever she prefers the outcome obtained by lying over the outcome obtained by telling the truth. This implies that so long as lying induces a preferred outcome over truth-telling, a person’s decision of whether to lie may be completely insensitive to other changes in the induced outcomes, such as exactly how much she monetarily gains relative to how much she hurts an anonymous partner. We run new but broadly similar experiments to those of Gneezy in order to test this hypothesis. While we also confirm that there is an aversion to lying in our subject population, our data cannot reject the simple hypothesis described above either.

Keywords: Experimental economics - Lying - Deception - Social preferences.

Classification Number: C91.

Experimental Economics DOI 10.1007/s10683-008-9208-2