In negotiations, deceiving others comes at a price, according to a study

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If you lie to another person in order to beat them in a financial negotiation, you may win more money, but you’ll likely end up feeling guilty and less happy with the deal than if you were honest, according to one from American Psychological published study association.

Study author Alex Van Zant, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, and his colleagues wanted to see whether lying—and getting away with it—makes liars more or less happy about the outcome of a negotiation.

“Although many people assume that cheating causes guilt, previous research has found that people are happier with themselves when they get away with unethical behavior,” Van Zant said. “But this research focused mostly on private unethical behavior, like cheating on exams or taxes. It was unclear whether these findings could extend to telling a lie to someone whom the lie directly hurts, such as a negotiator.”

The study was published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

To find out whether people who lie to others end up feeling “cheater guilt” or “cheater thrills,” the researchers recruited 982 online participants and grouped them into 491 seller-buyer pairs. Everyone had to negotiate the sale of a used laptop for less than $5000. In a dishonest state, the sellers were given the opportunity to pretend – they were told the laptop had a broken graphics card, but the buyer didn’t know that and wasn’t going to find out. In a control state, buyers knew about the broken graphics card and sellers knew that they knew.

Both sellers and buyers were incentivized to get the best possible offer. Sellers could receive a small cash payment for every $250 over $3,750 won in the sale price negotiations. Buyers, meanwhile, were offered cash for every $250 under $3,750 they paid for the laptop.

After the negotiations were complete and the buyer and seller agreed on a price, the sellers answered questions about their opinion of the deal (e.g., “I am satisfied with the outcome of this negotiation” and “This negotiation made me feel more empowered as a negotiator”), whether they felt guilty and what their general positive or negative mood was at that moment.

Overall, 74% of sellers given the opportunity to lie to their partners chose to do so. To support the scammers’ guilt hypothesis, those who chose to lie felt less satisfied with the negotiation, felt more guilty, and generally felt less satisfied than salespeople in the control condition who did not have a chance to lie. In addition, sellers who could have lied but chose to be honest were happier than sellers in the control condition.

The researchers were also interested in whether increasing or decreasing the incentive to lie would affect salespeople’s attitudes toward the outcome. So for half of the couples the cash incentive was $1.25 for every $250 over $3750, while for the other half the incentive was only 10 cents for every $250. The researchers found that sellers who lied for a greater incentive felt even more guilty than those who lied for a lesser reward.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers found that sellers who had lied to their buyers were less likely to choose to renegotiate with that partner and instead chose a new partner when offered a choice.

The researchers found that these effects were true regardless of people’s personal sense of morality and ethical standards. People who described themselves as highly empathetic and said being just, compassionate, and fair were extremely important to them, and those who rated these traits as less important to them, were equally likely to feel guilty and guilty after lying dissatisfied.

“Scholars have long known the risks of discovered dishonesty,” said Van Zant. “Our research breaks new ground by showing how even undiscovered dishonesty harms negotiators. It makes negotiators feel guilty, undermines their satisfaction, and reduces their interest in continuing a relationship with their interlocutors. When one considers the psychological and relational costs of dishonesty, living with the costs of dishonesty might be more psychologically challenging than forgoing its benefits.”

Future research could examine whether these results would apply to different types of lying, according to Van Zant.

“Our studies have focused on lies that involve either misrepresentation or concealing information for personal gain. But sometimes people might lie about their feelings, for example strategically exaggerated anger to intimidate a negotiator,” he said. “In other cases, they may even tell prosocial lies to benefit someone else. Some lies are probably easier for negotiators to rationalize than others. Perhaps those lies would not evoke nearly as much guilt as the lies we examined in our studies.”

More information:
Is it worth fooling others? The psychological and relational consequences of an undetected negotiation deception, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2022).…/psp-pspi0000410.pdf

Provided by the American Psychological Association

Citation: In negotiations, deceiving others comes at a price, study results (2022, 5 December), retrieved 5 December 2022 from

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