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The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of Self-Concept Maintenance

Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 45, No. 6, pp. 633-644, 2008

48 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2007 Last revised: 8 Apr 2011

Nina Mazar

University of Toronto - Joseph L. Rotman School of Management

On Amir

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management

Dan Ariely

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Date Written: 2008

Abstract

Dishonesty plays a large role in the economy. Causes for (dis)honest behavior seem to be based partially on external rewards, and partially on internal rewards. Here, we investigate how such external and internal rewards work in concert to produce (dis)honesty. We propose and test a theory of self-concept maintenance that allows people to engage to some level in dishonest behavior, thereby benefiting from external benefits of dishonesty, while maintaining their positive view about themselves in terms of being honest individuals. The results show that (1) given the opportunity to engage in beneficial dishonesty, people will engage in such behaviors; (2) the amount of dishonesty is largely insensitive to either the expected external benefits or the costs associated with the deceptive acts; (3) people know about their actions but do not update their self-concepts; (4) causing people to become more aware of their internal standards for honesty decreases their tendency for deception; and (5) increasing the "degrees of freedom" that people have to interpret their actions increases their tendency for deception. We suggest that dishonesty governed by self-concept maintenance is likely to be prevalent in the economy, and understanding it has important implications for designing effective methods to curb dishonesty.

Former working paper titles:
“(Dis)Honesty: A Combination of Internal and External Rewards” and
"Almost Honest: Internal and External Motives for Honesty")

Keywords: Honesty, Self concept, Cost - Benefit

JEL Classification: D0, D6, K0, M0

Suggested Citation

Mazar, Nina and Amir, On and Ariely, Dan, The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of Self-Concept Maintenance (2008). Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 45, No. 6, pp. 633-644, 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=979648

Nina Mazar (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Joseph L. Rotman School of Management ( email )

105 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E6
Canada
+1 (416) 946-5650 (Phone)
+1 (416) 978-5433 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://ninamazar.com

On Amir

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Rady School of Management
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States
858-534-2023 (Phone)
858-534-0745 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://management.ucsd.edu/faculty/directory/amir/

Dan Ariely

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
(919) 381-4366 (Phone)

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