Goal-Based Systems and Cheating: Decomposing the Role of Goal Targets, Social Comparison Framing and Financial Pay

50 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2017 Last revised: 21 Sep 2021

See all articles by Matthew Chao

Matthew Chao

Williams College

Ian Larkin

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management

Date Written: August 15, 2021

Abstract

Decades of research have examined how goal-based incentives can increase task performance, and the importance of factors such as goal commitment and relevancy when using goals. However, this detailed, systemic approach has not been extended to studying how and why the use of goals causes cheating. Despite considerable research, we therefore know little about the specific elements of goal-based systems that lead to increased cheating. Our paper uses two real-effort experiments (one novel task and one task from the existing literature) to decompose the effects of goal targets, social comparisons, and financial pay on cheating. We find that goal targets alone generate minimal cheating, but when goals are made more relevant through social comparison framing or increased marginal pay, cheating increases substantially. Our conclusion differs from previous studies that implemented social comparisons and changes in pay simultaneously with goals, but did not acknowledge the importance of these moderators in generating the observed cheating in their studies. Our paper also includes a third, scenario-based experiment showing that adding a social comparison to a goal increases cheating by affecting emotions related to self-efficacy and commitment, and emotions such as envy. We advocate that future research on goals and cheating adopt a more detailed approach to the theory by acknowledging and testing the effects of moderators, in much the same way that has been done in the goals and performance literature.

Keywords: Goals, social comparisons, cheating, judgment and decision making, incentive systems, ethics

JEL Classification: M50, J33

Suggested Citation

Chao, Matthew and Larkin, Ian, Goal-Based Systems and Cheating: Decomposing the Role of Goal Targets, Social Comparison Framing and Financial Pay (August 15, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3031304 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3031304

Matthew Chao

Williams College ( email )

Williamstown, MA 01267
United States

Ian Larkin (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States

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