'I’m Just Being Honest.' When and Why Honesty Enables Helping versus Harming Behaviors
65 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2018 Last revised: 19 Jun 2019
Date Written: August 23, 2018
Although honesty is typically conceptualized as a virtue, it often conflicts with other equally important moral values, such as avoiding interpersonal harm. In the present research, we explore when and why honesty increases selfish versus altruistic behavior. Across seven incentive-compatible experiments (4 preregistered, total N = 2,152), in the context of negotiations, advice-giving, and economic games, we document four novel results. First, honesty enables communicators to engage in and justify selfish behaviors that harm others. Second, communicators view their honest but harmful actions as more ethical than targets do. Third, the effects of honesty on selfishness and altruism depend on the choice set available to the communicator. When communicators cannot omit information, honesty enables both selfishness and altruism. However, when communicators can omit information, honesty uniquely enables selfishness. Fourth, even when individuals have no selfish incentive to be honest, honesty can lead to interpersonal harm because people avoid information about how their honest behavior affects others. This research unearths new insights on how choice sets influence moral choice, and consequently, the contexts in which moral principles are a force of good versus a force of evil.
Keywords: honesty, ethics, deception, justification, information avoidance
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