'I Cheated, But Only a Little' – Partial Confessions to Unethical Behavior

Forthcoming in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

56 Pages Posted: 23 May 2013 Last revised: 19 Nov 2013

See all articles by Eyal Peer

Eyal Peer

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Federmann School of Government and Public Policy

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Shaul Shalvi

University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam School of Economics (ASE)

Date Written: May 21, 2013

Abstract

Confessions are people's way of coming clean, sharing unethical acts with others. Although confessions are traditionally viewed as categorical – one either comes clean or not – people often confess to only part of their transgression. Such partial confessions may seem attractive, because they offer an opportunity to relieve one’s guilt without having to own up to the full consequences of the transgression. In this paper, we explored the occurrence, antecedents, consequences, and everyday prevalence of partial confessions. Using a novel experimental design, we found a high frequency of partial confessions, especially among people cheating to the full extent possible. People found partial confessions attractive because they (correctly) expected partial confessions to be more believable than not confessing. People failed, however, to anticipate the emotional costs associated with partially confessing. In fact, partial confessions made people feel worse than not confessing or fully confessing, a finding corroborated in a laboratory setting as well as in a study assessing people’s everyday confessions. It seems that although partial confessions seem attractive, they come at an emotional cost.

Keywords: confessions; unethical behavior; negative emotions, decision making, credibility

Suggested Citation

Pe'er, Eyal and Acquisti, Alessandro and Shalvi, Shaul, 'I Cheated, But Only a Little' – Partial Confessions to Unethical Behavior (May 21, 2013). Forthcoming in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2268571 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2268571

Eyal Pe'er (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Federmann School of Government and Public Policy ( email )

Israel

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-9853 (Phone)
412-268-5339 (Fax)

Shaul Shalvi

University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam School of Economics (ASE) ( email )

Roetersstraat 11
Amsterdam, North Holland 1018 WB
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/morallabshalvi/

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