Malleable Lies: Communication and Cooperation in a High Stakes TV Game Show
Management Science, Vol. 65, No. 10, pp. 4795-4812, October 2019
35 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2017 Last revised: 18 Feb 2020
Date Written: February 17, 2017
We investigate the credibility of non-binding pre-play statements about cooperative behavior, using data from a high-stakes TV game show in which contestants play a variant on the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma. We depart from the conventional binary approach of classifying statements as promises or not, and propose a more fine-grained two-by-two typology inspired by the idea that lying aversion leads defectors to prefer statements that are malleable to ex-post interpretation as truths. Our empirical analysis shows that statements that carry an element of conditionality or implicitness are associated with a lower likelihood of cooperation, and confirms that malleability is a good criterion for judging the credibility of cheap talk.
Keywords: deception, lying aversion, game show, prisoner’s dilemma, communication, cooperation, cheap talk
JEL Classification: C72, C93, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation