Leveling the playing field: Dishonesty in the face of threat
We examined the effects of framing and perceived vulnerability on dishonest behavior in competitive environments. Participants were randomly matched into pairs and took a short multiple-choice test, the relative score of which determined their merit-based payoffs. After learning about the test scores, participants were asked to report them, thus affecting the final payoffs. Framing was varied as participants could either report their own scores or the scores of their counterparts. The presence of threat, or vulnerability to other players’ dishonesty, was varied as either one or both players in a pair could misreport scores. Participants who reported their counterparts’ scores were more likely to report honestly than participants who entered their own score. Participants, whose payoffs were threatened by their opponents’ misreporting, were more likely to cheat to the fullest extent. Furthermore, we found that framing significantly reduced misreporting in the absence, but not in the presence of threat. Results suggest that when actors feel vulnerable to other people’s dishonesty they would often cheat as much as they can in order to “level the playing field”, even when they strongly disapprove of the behavior.
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