Harmful lie aversion and lie discovery in noisy expert advice games
This study tests whether individuals are reluctant to tell lies, or perhaps only “harmful lies”, in a previously untested environment: an expert sending a message to a decision maker whose interpretation of that message is subject to error, i.e. a noisy sender–receiver game. In the Aligned treatment, the expert can send a “white lie” to the receiver, eliminating the negative effects of noise and improving both parties’ payoffs. In the Conflict treatment, lies are harmful and the inability to commit to truthtelling destroys all meaningful communication in equilibrium unless there is a cost of lying. In the experiment, receivers are overly trusting and experts learn to take advantage of this. As experts gain experience they tell stronger and more frequent lies in both treatments, consistent with models of reinforcement learning. The findings suggest that neither harmful nor universal lie aversion is a factor when communication is noisy, provided individuals have time to discover their personal benefits of lies.
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