Journal of Behavioral Decision Making

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What Provides Justification for Cheating—Producing or Observing Counterfactuals?


When people can profit financially by lying, they do so to the extent to which they can justify their lies. One type of justification is the observation and production of desirable counterfactual information. Here, we disentangle observing and producing of desired counterfactuals and test whether the mere observation is sufficient or whether one actually needs to produce the information in order to justify lying. By employing a modified version of the Die‐Under‐Cup task, we ask participants to privately roll a die three times and to report the outcome of the first die roll (with higher values corresponding to higher payoffs). In all three conditions, participants produce (roll the die) and observe the first die roll, which is relevant for pay. We manipulate whether participants produce and observe versus only observe the second and third die roll outcomes, which are both irrelevant for pay. Results reveal that people lie to the same extent—when producing and observing the counterfactuals, and when merely observing them. It seems that merely observing counterfactual information is sufficient to allow people to use this information to justify their lies. We further test whether creativity and moral disengagement are associated with dishonesty and replicate the finding showing that unethical behavior increases with creativity. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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