It’s Not A Lie If You Believe It: On Norms, Lying, and Self-Serving Belief Distortion

59 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2019 Last revised: 29 Jul 2019

See all articles by Cristina Bicchieri

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania

Eugen Dimant

University of Pennsylvania, Behavioral Ethics Lab

Silvia Sonderegger

University of Bristol - Department of Economics

Date Written: July 26, 2019

Abstract

This paper focuses on norm-following considerations as motivating behavior when lying opportunities are present. To obtain evidence on what makes it harder/easier to lie, we hypothesize that subjects might use belief-manipulation in order to justify their lying. We employ a two-stage variant of a cheating paradigm, in which subjects’ beliefs are elicited in stage 1 before performing the die task in stage 2. In stage 1: a) we elicit the subjects’ beliefs about majoritarian (i) behavior or (ii) normative beliefs in a previous session, and b) we vary whether participants are (i) aware or (ii) unaware of the upcoming opportunity to lie. We show that belief manipulation happens, and takes the form of people convincing themselves that lying behavior is widespread. In contrast with beliefs about the behavior of others, we find that beliefs about their normative convictions are not distorted, since believing that the majority disapproves of lying does not inhibit own lying. These findings are consistent with a model where agents are motivated by norm-following concerns, and honest behavior is a strong indicator of disapproval of lying but disapproval of lying is not a strong indicator of honest behavior. We provide evidence that supports this hypothesis.

Keywords: Cheating, Experiment, Lying, Social Norms, Uncertainty

JEL Classification: C72, C91, D8, D9

Suggested Citation

Bicchieri, Cristina and Dimant, Eugen and Sonderegger, Silvia, It’s Not A Lie If You Believe It: On Norms, Lying, and Self-Serving Belief Distortion (July 26, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3326146 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3326146

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-5820 (Phone)

Eugen Dimant (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, Behavioral Ethics Lab ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/eugendimant/

Silvia Sonderegger

University of Bristol - Department of Economics ( email )

8 Woodland Road
Bristol BS8 ITN
United Kingdom

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