Saturday, January 26, 2013

Those Lying (Economist) Eyes

Dan Ariely points us to this paper:
Senders received 15 Euros every time they indicated a green circle, and only 14 when they communicated that the circle was blue. Receivers earned an even 10 euros regardless of the color, and so were unaffected by either the truthfulness or dishonesty of the senders.
That is, by design, no monetary harm is done by lying to either person in the experiment, but lying is beneficial to the liar.
The results showed little difference in honesty as a factor of socio-demographic characteristics or gender. A student’s major, however, was a different story. As it turned out, those in the humanities, who were the most honest of all, told the perfect truth a little over half the time. The broad group of “other” was a bit less honest with around 40% straight shooters. And how about the business and economics group? They scraped the bottom with a 23% rate of honesty.
That is, economics students were much more likely to tell a harmless lie that's in their own self-interest.  Dan is quite troubled by this.  I am fairly certain that I would lie in this experiment, but I am much less troubled by that.

 I would like to see the study where the payouts are reversed.  Let the sender only lie to benefit the receiver.  Is an economist more likely to lie for the other person's benefit as well, if it is at no cost?  If so, then perhaps the students are learning to think hard about independently about policies, laws and rules of thumb that they've grown up with, precisely what we are trying to teach them.

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