Informal declarations of mutual trust can reduce dishonesty
Results from a FAIR experiment suggest that informal declarations of mutual trust can reduce dishonesty in the Norwegian population. The research is presented at The Christie Conference 27 April.
Honesty is a central moral value for individuals and groups. Dishonesty is related to many social ills such as corruption, fraud, and other types of rulebreaking.
Reasonably, people would prefer to live in societies where honesty is the norm and like to be around individuals who do not lie for their benefit. Many recent Psychology and Economics studies have looked into questions such as how honest is the average person? Why do some people tend to lie more than others? And, how could we reduce dishonesty and its consequences?
Contrary to traditional economic models, where it is assumed that individuals act rationally and maximize their own self interest, individuals do not always behave in an entirely dishonest way when they have the opportunity to cheat for private gain. In other words, they reject opportunities to lie for money.
In contrast, behavioral scientists have observed that most people value both feeling honest and being seen as honest. Consequently, in experimental settings, individuals prefer to make partial lies rather than lie to maximize their own rewards. Moreover, their behavior is highly malleable to contextual factors, other people's actions, and their emotional states.
To contribute to this emerging literature, we used the "mind-game paradigm" from behavioral economics in a representative sample in Norway (N=800). In the experiment, dishonest behavior was economically incentivized but impossible to detect at the individual level.
The results showed that approximately 1 out of 4 participants were willing to misreport factual information to earn a bonus payment of $100. In contrast, about 3 out of 4 remained honest despite the economic incentive to lie.
Crucially, we also found that the level of dishonesty was cut in half when participants were exposed to a simple trust message ("We trust you") before their choice and confirmed that they would report accurate information.
Our results suggest that informal declarations of mutual trust can reduce dishonesty in the Norwegian population.
More research is needed to investigate what makes this trust-based precommitment effective and to know if our results apply to other countries.
At the Christie conferenc in Bergen 27 April, we will present the results of this and other projects at the Centre for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality, and Rationality (FAIR).”