Are Liars Ethical? On the Tension between Benevolence and Honesty

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 107-117.

51 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2017

See all articles by Emma Levine

Emma Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Date Written: 2014

Abstract

We demonstrate that some lies are perceived to be more ethical than honest statements. Across three studies, we find that individuals who tell prosocial lies, lies told with the intention of benefitting others, are perceived to be more moral than individuals who tell the truth. In Study 1, we compare altruistic lies to selfish truths. In Study 2, we introduce a stochastic deception game to disentangle the influence of deception, outcomes, and intentions on perceptions of moral character. In Study 3, we demonstrate that moral judgments of lies are sensitive to the consequences of lying for the deceived party, but insensitive to the consequences of lying for the liar. Both honesty and benevolence are essential components of moral character. We find that when these values conflict, benevolence may be more important than honesty. More broadly, our findings suggest that the moral foundation of care may be more important than the moral foundation of justice.

Keywords: lying, deception, unethical behavior, ethical dilemmas, moral judgment

Suggested Citation

Levine, Emma and Schweitzer, Maurice E., Are Liars Ethical? On the Tension between Benevolence and Honesty (2014). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 107-117.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2910061

Emma Levine (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4776 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

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