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Do Happy People Cheat Less? A Field Experiment on Dishonesty

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  • Siniver, Erez

Abstract

Results of an experimental study designed to examine the effect of happiness on dishonest behavior are reported and analyzed. Passersby on the streets of Tel Aviv were asked to answer the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ), which contains 29 multiple-choice questions for measuring Subjective Well-Being (SWB). Each question is answered according to a uniform six-point Likert scale. After filling out the questionnaire, they were invited to perform the Fischbacher and Follmi-Heusi (2013)’s die-under-the-cup (DUTC) task, which incentivizes dishonest behavior. Past research has found a positive relationship between a person's level of honesty and their reported SWB. However, that result is based entirely on a subject's responses to a direct-question survey that simply asks whether he behaves ethically. The present study examines the relationship between dishonest behavior and SWB based on experimental data. Happiness was found to be positively correlated with dishonest behavior, implying that happy people cheat more than unhappy people. A possible explanation for this unexpected result is that happiness may provide the cognitive flexibility necessary to reframe and rationalize dishonest acts. This may pave the way for the commission of dishonest acts by altering how people evaluate the moral implications of their behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • Siniver, Erez, 2021. "Do Happy People Cheat Less? A Field Experiment on Dishonesty," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 91(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:91:y:2021:i:c:s2214804320307011
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2020.101658
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Happiness; Subjective Well-Being; Ethics; Dishonesty; Lying; Die-Under-the-Cup Task;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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