Humans, Students, and Deception

One of the things I’ve been reading through lately is a research paper titled Deconstructing the Corporate Psychopath: An Examination of Deceptive BehaviorThe topic itself is interesting enough I suppose, though the actual data in this one is derived from students and not actual executives. The underlying assumption being that business students become business executives, with a side of “[exposure] to the self-interest model of economics” as a major part of their curriculum.

Among the things they did in this study was a “cheap talk experiment” which appears to be a fairly common feature in decision-making studies. In this case, each participant was presented with a scenario consisting of two options. Option A, if chosen, benefits the receiver more, Option B benefits the sender more. The participant can choose to tell the receiver that Option A has a higher payout (honesty) or that Option B has a higher payout (self-interested deception). Their goal was to see if business students were more likely to deceive others for their own benefit.

deception results
Their chart, not mine.

I found the data itself to be horrifying. Roughly half of the people, in general, were willing to lie for their own benefit. It’s important to remember that the payouts, in this case, were fairly insignificant, especially in the case of group 1, and non-monetary. It was extra credit.

Having said that, it makes sense that people are more willing to deceive when they don’t know who’s paying the price and believe that there’s no chance of ever being found out. It’s like the infamous “press this button and you get a million dollars but a random person dies” sort of situation, but with significantly lower stakes. It also didn’t address issues like how many people chose deception because they had lower scores, to begin with, and felt like they needed every bit of extra credit they could get.

It’s worth pointing out that the third group stood to gain a lot more through deception than the other two groups. First was balanced but minor (5 v 6). Second was imbalanced. If lying you gain one extra point but the other person would only gain 5 instead of 15. The last was balanced at 10 points either way. The experiment hinges on the fact that the other person isn’t technically bound by your statement and can choose either option regardless, and wouldn’t know what each option does. Their only clue is your statement.

I dunno, it’s messing with me a bit, that so many people are willing to deceive for such a little reward. I mean, I’m not surprised, I’ve met a few humans in my day and to some extent, it seems par for the course. Maybe I’m just an optimist in trying to assume the overall “goodness” of people at large.

There’s a lot of other stuff in that study too, about psychopathy and ethical dilemmas, but I’m not willing to run on for another several hundred words to talk about it.

Y’all take care, and remember everybody else is human and has their own thing going on. Judge slowly, you never know where they’re at or why they’re making the choices that they do.

2 thoughts on “Humans, Students, and Deception

  1. On the other hand, in a glass half-empty, half-full viewpoint, roughly half of the people in the study did not. If you take the economic theory of each person being a self-interested rational actor, 100% should have defected for their own benefit. So what was going on there with the 50% that did not?

    It’s pretty amazing humans learned altruism, fairness and how to share and cooperate in the first place. With unrelated kin at that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a pretty good point since one of the underlying assumptions is that the self-interest theory was one reason that “explains” why business students might be more likely to do this. It says a lot about the overall value we place on honesty, even with complete strangers.

      While I’m sure it’s a very individual thing, I’m really curious what range of value is. At what point people tend to trade altruism for benefit. For about 15% of business students it looks like it’s between 5 and 15 points of extra credit.


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