Deception and Reciprocity

44 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2016 Last revised: 28 Sep 2019

See all articles by Despoina Alempaki

Despoina Alempaki

University of Warwick

Gönül Doğan

University of Cologne

Silvia Saccardo

Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Date Written: September 28, 2016


We experimentally investigate the relationship between (un)kind actions and subsequent deception in a two-player, two-stage game. The first stage involves a dictator game. In the second-stage, the recipient in the dictator game has the opportunity to lie to her counterpart. We study how the fairness of dictator-game outcomes affects subsequent lying decisions where lying hurts one’s counterpart. In doing so, we examine whether the moral cost of lying varies when retaliating against unkind actions is financially beneficial for the self (selfish lies), as opposed to being costly (spiteful lies). We find evidence that individuals engage in deception to reciprocate unkind behavior: The smaller the payoff received in the first stage, the higher the lying rate. Intention-based reciprocity largely drives behavior, as individuals use deception to punish unkind behavior and truth-telling to reward kind behavior. For selfish lies, individuals have a moral cost of lying. However, for spiteful lies, we find no evidence for such costs. Taken together, our data show a moral cost of lying that is not fixed but instead context-dependent.

Keywords: Deception; Lying costs; Reciprocity; Punishment; Laboratory Experiment

JEL Classification: C90, C92, D0, D82

Suggested Citation

Alempaki, Despoina and Doğan, Gönül and Saccardo, Silvia, Deception and Reciprocity (September 28, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Despoina Alempaki (Contact Author)

University of Warwick ( email )

Scarman Road
Coventry, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

Gönül Doğan

University of Cologne ( email )

Cologne, 50923

Silvia Saccardo

Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

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