Honesty Pledges for the Behaviorally-based Regulation of Dishonesty
30 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2020 Last revised: 29 Jan 2021
Date Written: June 1, 2020
A common regulatory dilemma is determining how much trust authorities can place in people’s self-reports, especially in contexts where the incentive to cheat is high. In such contexts, regulators are typically risk averse and do not readily confer trust, resulting worldwide in excessive requirements when applying for permits, licenses, and the like. Studies in behavioral ethics have suggested that asking people to ex-ante pledge to behave ethically can reduce their level of dishonesty and noncompliance. However, pledges might also backfire by allowing more people to cheat with no real sanctions. Additionally, pledges’ effects have almost always been studied in one-shot decision making without sanctions. We explore pledges’ potential effects by manipulating whether pledges were accompanied by sanctions (fines) and testing their impact on sequential, repeated ethical decisions. We find that pledges can considerably and consistently reduced dishonesty, and this effect is not crowded out by the presence of fines. Furthermore, pledges also affect “brazen liars” who cheat to a large extent and also those who score low on tendencies to follow rules and norms. We conclude that pledges could be an effective tool for the behavioral regulation of dishonesty, reduce the regulatory burden, and build a more trusting relationship between government and the public.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation