The Surprising Costs of Silence: Asymmetric Preferences for Prosocial Lies of Commission and Omission

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(1), 29-51

82 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2017 Last revised: 5 Aug 2018

See all articles by Emma Levine

Emma Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Joanna Hart

University of Pennsylvania

Kendra Moore

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Emily Rubin

University of Pennsylvania

Kuldeep Yadav

University of Pennsylvania

Scott D. Halpern

University of Pennsylvania - Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Medicine

Date Written: February 1, 2017

Abstract

Across seven experiments (N = 3883), we demonstrate that communicators and targets make egocentric moral judgments of deception. Specifically, communicators focus more on the costs of deception to them – e.g., the guilt they feel when they break a moral rule – whereas targets focus more on whether deception helps or harms them. As a result, communicators and targets make asymmetric judgments of prosocial lies of commission and omission: Communicators often believe that omitting information is more ethical than telling a prosocial lie, whereas targets often believe the opposite. We document these effects within the context of healthcare discussions, employee layoffs, and economic games, among both clinical populations (i.e., oncologists and cancer patients) and lay people. We identify moderators and downstream consequences of this asymmetry. We conclude by discussing psychological and practical implications for medicine, management, behavioral ethics, and human communication.

Keywords: Deception, Ethics, Communication, Egocentrism, Medical Decision-Making

Suggested Citation

Levine, Emma and Hart, Joanna and Moore, Kendra and Rubin, Emily and Yadav, Kuldeep and Halpern, Scott D., The Surprising Costs of Silence: Asymmetric Preferences for Prosocial Lies of Commission and Omission (February 1, 2017). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 114(1), 29-51, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2910065 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2910065

Emma Levine (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Joanna Hart

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Kendra Moore

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) ( email )

Third Avenue and Parnassus
San Francisco, CA 94143
United States

Emily Rubin

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Kuldeep Yadav

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Scott D. Halpern

University of Pennsylvania - Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Medicine ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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