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Separating Will from Grace: An Experiment on Conformity and Awareness in Cheating


  • Toke Fosgaard

    () (Institute of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen)

  • Lars Gaarn Hansen

    () (Institute of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen)

  • Marco Piovesan

    () (Institute of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen)


In this paper we investigate if people cheat more when they observe their peers cheating because they conform or because they become aware that cheating is something to actively consider. In our experiment subjects toss a coin in private and report the outcome (white or black). We reward only those who report white and leave them the possibility to cheat without being discovered. In our 2x2 experimental design, we manipulated subjects’ report sheet to i) suggest (or not) that cheating is an option; ii) suggest that their peers were honest (or dishonest). We find that increasing awareness of cheating as an option significantly increases the probability that women cheat; whereas men – who are already aware that cheating is an option - are not affected. When we suggest that peers have cheated, men cheat significantly more, whereas women do not.

Suggested Citation

  • Toke Fosgaard & Lars Gaarn Hansen & Marco Piovesan, 2012. "Separating Will from Grace: An Experiment on Conformity and Awareness in Cheating," IFRO Working Paper 2012/15, University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:foi:wpaper:2012_15

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Urs Fischbacher & Franziska Föllmi-Heusi, 2013. "Lies In Disguise—An Experimental Study On Cheating," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 525-547, June.
    2. Erat, Sanjiv, 2013. "Avoiding lying: The case of delegated deception," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 273-278.
    3. Sanjiv Erat & Uri Gneezy, 2012. "White Lies," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 58(4), pages 723-733, April.
    4. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
    5. Gerald J. Pruckner & Rupert Sausgruber, 2008. "Honesty on the Streets - A Natural Field Experiment on Newspaper Purchasing," Working Papers 2009-24, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, University of Innsbruck.
    6. Matthias Sutter, 2009. "Deception Through Telling the Truth?! Experimental Evidence From Individuals and Teams," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(534), pages 47-60, January.
    7. Dreber, Anna & Johannesson, Magnus, 2008. "Gender differences in deception," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 99(1), pages 197-199, April.
    8. Barbara Ritter, 2006. "Can Business Ethics be Trained? A Study of the Ethical Decision-making Process in Business Students," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 68(2), pages 153-164, October.
    9. Iris Vermeir & Patrick Kenhove, 2008. "Gender Differences in Double Standards," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 81(2), pages 281-295, August.
    10. Bucciol, Alessandro & Piovesan, Marco, 2011. "Luck or cheating? A field experiment on honesty with children," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 73-78, February.
    11. Bucciol, Alessandro & Landini, Fabio & Piovesan, Marco, 2013. "Unethical behavior in the field: Demographic characteristics and beliefs of the cheater," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 248-257.
    12. Shane Frederick, 2005. "Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 25-42, Fall.
    13. Azar, Ofer H. & Yosef, Shira & Bar-Eli, Michael, 2013. "Do customers return excessive change in a restaurant?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 219-226.
    14. Nina Mazar & Dan Ariely, 2006. "Dishonesty in everyday life and its policy implications," Working Papers 06-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    15. Shalvi, Shaul & Dana, Jason & Handgraaf, Michel J.J. & De Dreu, Carsten K.W., 2011. "Justified ethicality: Observing desired counterfactuals modifies ethical perceptions and behavior," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 115(2), pages 181-190, July.
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    More about this item


    cheating; norms; conformity; awareness; gender differences;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty

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