The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of Self-Concept Maintenance
University of Toronto - Joseph L. Rotman School of Management
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management
Duke University - Fuqua School of Business
Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 45, No. 6, pp. 633-644, 2008
Dishonesty plays a large role in the economy. Causes for (dis)honest behavior seem to be based partially on external rewards, and partially on internal rewards. Here, we investigate how such external and internal rewards work in concert to produce (dis)honesty. We propose and test a theory of self-concept maintenance that allows people to engage to some level in dishonest behavior, thereby benefiting from external benefits of dishonesty, while maintaining their positive view about themselves in terms of being honest individuals. The results show that (1) given the opportunity to engage in beneficial dishonesty, people will engage in such behaviors; (2) the amount of dishonesty is largely insensitive to either the expected external benefits or the costs associated with the deceptive acts; (3) people know about their actions but do not update their self-concepts; (4) causing people to become more aware of their internal standards for honesty decreases their tendency for deception; and (5) increasing the "degrees of freedom" that people have to interpret their actions increases their tendency for deception. We suggest that dishonesty governed by self-concept maintenance is likely to be prevalent in the economy, and understanding it has important implications for designing effective methods to curb dishonesty.
Former working paper titles:
“(Dis)Honesty: A Combination of Internal and External Rewards” and
"Almost Honest: Internal and External Motives for Honesty")
Number of Pages in PDF File: 48
Keywords: Honesty, Self concept, Cost - Benefit
JEL Classification: D0, D6, K0, M0
Date posted: April 12, 2007 ; Last revised: April 8, 2011
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