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The Costs of Deception: Evidence From Psychology

  • Andreas Ortmann
  • Ralph Hertwig

Recently, it has been argued that the evidence in social science research suggests that deceiving subjects in an experiment does not lead to a significant loss of experimental control. Based on this assessment, experimental economists were counseled to lift their de facto prohibition against deception to capture its potential benefits. To the extent that this recommendation is derived from empirical studies, we argue that it draws on a selective sample of the available evidence. Building on a systematic review of relevant research in psychology, we present two major results: First, the evidence suggests that the experience of having been deceived generates suspicion which in turn is likely to affect judgment and decision making of a non-negligible number of participants. Second, we find little evidence for reputational spillover effects that have been hypothesized by a number of authors in psychology and economics (e.g., Kelman, 1967; Davis and Holt, 1993). Based on a discussion of the methodological costs and benefits of deception, we conclude that experimental economists' prohibition of deception is a sensible convention that economists should not abandon.

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Paper provided by The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute, Prague in its series CERGE-EI Working Papers with number wp191.

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Date of creation: Dec 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cer:papers:wp191
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  1. Bonetti, Shane, 1998. "Reply to Hey and Starmer & McDaniel," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 411-414, June.
  2. Kreps, David M., 1990. "Game Theory and Economic Modelling," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198283812.
  3. McDaniel, Tanga & Starmer, Chris, 1998. "Experimental economics and deception: A comment," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 403-409, June.
  4. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-55, December.
  5. Hoffman, Elizabeth & McCabe, Kevin & Smith, Vernon L, 1996. "Social Distance and Other-Regarding Behavior in Dictator Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 653-60, June.
  6. Ortmann, Andreas & Tichy, Lisa K., 1999. "Gender differences in the laboratory: evidence from prisoner's dilemma games," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 327-339, July.
  7. Bonetti, Shane, 1998. "Experimental economics and deception," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 377-395, June.
  8. Weimann, Joachim, 1994. "Individual behaviour in a free riding experiment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 185-200, June.
  9. Nicholas Bardsley, 2000. "Control Without Deception: Individual Behaviour in Free-Riding Experiments Revisited," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 3(3), pages 215-240, December.
  10. Hausken, Kjell, 1995. "The dynamics of within-group and between-group interaction," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(7), pages 655-687.
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