'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

See all articles by Emma Levine

Emma Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

David M. Munguia Gomez

University of Chicago

Date Written: August 23, 2018

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Levine, Emma and Munguia Gomez, David M., 'I’m Just Being Honest.' When and Why Honesty Enables Helping versus Harming Behaviors (August 23, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3237621 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3237621

Emma Levine (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

David M. Munguia Gomez

University of Chicago

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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