Does Telling White Lies Signal Pro-Social Preferences?

Judgment and Decision Making 10, 538-548 (2015)

11 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2015 Last revised: 20 Dec 2015

See all articles by Laura Biziou-van-Pol

Laura Biziou-van-Pol

University of Amsterdam

Jana Haenen

University of Amsterdam

Arianna Novaro

University of Amsterdam

Andrés Occhipinti Liberman

University of Amsterdam

Valerio Capraro

Middlesex University

Date Written: November 19, 2015

Abstract

The opportunity to tell a white lie (i.e., a lie that benefits another person) generates a moral conflict between two opposite moral dictates, one pushing towards telling always the truth and the other pushing towards helping others. Here we study how people resolve this moral conflict. What does telling a white lie signal about a person's pro-social tendencies? To answer this question, we conducted a two-stage 2x2 experiment. In the first stage, we used a Deception Game to measure aversion to telling a Pareto white lie (i.e., a lie that helps both the liar and the listener), and aversion to telling an altruistic white lie (i.e., a lie that helps the listener at the expense of the liar). In the second stage we measured altruistic tendencies using a Dictator Game and cooperative tendencies using a Prisoner's dilemma. We found three major results: (i) both altruism and cooperation are positively correlated with aversion to telling a Pareto white lie; (ii) both altruism and cooperation are negatively correlated with aversion to telling an altruistic white lie; (iii) men are more likely than women to tell an altruistic white lie, but not to tell a Pareto white lie. Our results shed light on the moral conflit between pro-sociality and truth-telling. In particular, the first finding suggests that a significant proportion of people have non-distributional notions of what the right thing to do is: irrespective of their economic consequences, they tell the truth, they cooperate, they share their money.

Keywords: lying-aversion, white lies, cooperation, altruism, pro-sociality, moral dilemmas

JEL Classification: C70, C79, C90, C91, C92, D64, D70, D71, H41

Suggested Citation

Biziou-van-Pol, Laura and Haenen, Jana and Novaro, Arianna and Occhipinti Liberman, Andrés and Capraro, Valerio, Does Telling White Lies Signal Pro-Social Preferences? (November 19, 2015). Judgment and Decision Making 10, 538-548 (2015), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2617668 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2617668

Laura Biziou-van-Pol

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Jana Haenen

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Arianna Novaro

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Andrés Occhipinti Liberman

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

Valerio Capraro (Contact Author)

Middlesex University ( email )

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
287
Abstract Views
1,916
rank
131,245
PlumX Metrics