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Language and lies

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  • Gawn, Glynis
  • Innes, Robert

Abstract

Does an individual’s aversion to a lie depend upon the language used to communicate the lie? We adapt the Lopez-Perez and Spiegelman (2013) dot experiment to measure how a “weak” vs. “strong” message affects individuals’ propensities for truthfulness when there is a monetary incentive to lie and no other person is affected by the communication. Weak messages state a fact, whereas strong statements “solemnly swear” to the fact. In our first (between-subject) experiment, strong (vs. weak) statements increase the percentage of subjects choosing to tell the truth by approximately 30 percentage points in each of three different payoff scenarios that favor lying to a different extent. Because lies increase payoffs in the experiment, the weaker aversion to weaker lies is socially advantageous. In a second (within-subject) experiment participants choose between messages of different strength and we find (1) a preference for lying with weak (vs. strong) language, and (2) a significant fraction of subjects who are willing to pay a positive amount to avoid a strong vs. weak lie. From both experiments, we conclude that our subjects tend to be intrinsically less averse to dishonesty when a lie is conveyed with weak vs. strong language.

Suggested Citation

  • Gawn, Glynis & Innes, Robert, 2018. "Language and lies," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 167-176.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:74:y:2018:i:c:p:167-176
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2018.04.007
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Deception; Language; Communication; Lying aversion;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

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