Lying but still feeling moral: How individuals balance the costs and benefits of immoral action


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Elise Kalokerinos

Dr Isabel Thielmann
University of Koblenz-Landau

Dishonesty constitutes a widespread aspect of human social interaction, ranging from private contexts (e.g., cheating in romantic relationships), over semi-public settings (e.g., tax evasion), to large public crises (e.g., cheating on pollution emissions tests). Despite the high prevalence of immoral behavior, however, most people feel moral and indeed more moral than others. In my talk, I will bring together evidence showing how people manage to act immorally but still feel moral. Specifically, I will present research using behavioral decision-making tasks (i.e., cheating paradigms) to illuminate how (i) the justifiability of lying, (ii) the magnitude of (objective and subjective) incentives, and (iii) personality influence dishonest behavior. Overall, these findings show that people are well-versed at balancing the psychological costs and the tangible benefits of lying – and yet, some individuals are just honest.

About the speaker

Isabel Thielmann is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Psychology, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany. Her research focuses on individual differences in ethical and prosocial behavior as well as on personality and personality judgments. In most of her work, she combines methods from behavioral economics and behavioral ethics with approaches from personality psychology to provide a better understanding of person-situation interactions in the moral domain.