It's Not A Lie if You Believe the Norm Does Not Apply: Conditional Norm-Following and Belief Distortion
61 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2019 Last revised: 3 May 2022
Date Written: May 3, 2022
We investigate the self-serving distortion of individual beliefs about dominant norms of honesty in a context in which subjects can earn a monetary reward by lying. In contrast to the existing literature on motivated beliefs, we do not focus on distortion in one dimension alone, but instead consider beliefs in two dimensions, both of which have been shown to affect individual behavior: empirical (what other people do) and normative (what other people approve of). Our experimental findings are consistent with the predictions of a dual-self model in which conditional norm-followers strategically distort their beliefs to justify self-serving behavior. We argue that the asymmetry between what we infer from empirical as opposed to normative information is a key ingredient of belief distortion in our context: widespread honest behavior is a strong indicator of disapproval of lying (and thus that a norm of honesty is followed), but the opposite does not hold. Taken together, we show why, when, and which norm-relevant beliefs are strategically distorted.
Keywords: Lying, Social Norms, Strategic Beliefs, Uncertainty
JEL Classification: C72, C91, D8, D9
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation