Booth School of Business
(June 17, 2019).
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3405538
We frequently claim that lying is wrong, despite modeling that it is often right. The present research sheds light on this tension by unearthing systematic cases in which people believe lying is ethical in everyday communication and by proposing and testing a theory to explain these cases. Using both inductive and experimental approaches, I demonstrate that deception is perceived to be ethical, and individuals want to be deceived, when deception is perceived to prevent unnecessary harm. I identify nine implicit rules – pertaining to the targets of deception and the topic and timing of a conversation – that specify the systematic circumstances in which deception is perceived to cause unnecessary harm, and I document the causal effect of each implicit rule on the endorsement of deception. This research provides insight into when and why people value honesty, and paves the way for future research on when and why people embrace deception.