Benjamin E. Hilbig and Isabel Thielmann
Volume 163, June 2017, Pages 15–25
Most approaches to dishonest behavior emphasize the importance of corresponding payoffs, typically implying that dishonesty might increase with increasing incentives. However, prior evidence does not appear to confirm this intuition. However, extant findings are based on relatively small payoffs, the potential effects of which are solely analyzed across participants. In two experiments, we used different multi-trial die-rolling paradigms designed to investigate dishonesty at the individual level (i.e., within participants) and as a function of the payoffs at stake – implementing substantial incentives exceeding 100€. Results show that incentive sizes indeed matter for ethical decision making, though primarily for two subsets of “corruptible individuals” (who cheat more the more they are offered) and “small sinners” (who tend to cheat less as the potential payoffs increase). Others (“brazen liars”) are willing to cheat for practically any non-zero incentive whereas still others (“honest individuals”) do not cheat at all, even for large payoffs. By implication, the influence of payoff magnitude on ethical decision making is often obscured when analyzed across participants and with insufficiently tempting payoffs.
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