Honesty pledges for the behaviorally-based regulation of dishonesty

Eyal Peer*, Yuval Feldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


A common regulatory dilemma is determining how much trust authorities can place in people’s self-reports, especially in contexts with an incentive to cheat. In such contexts, regulators are typically risk averse and do not readily confer trust, resulting in excessive requirements when applying for permits, licenses, etc. Studies in behavioral ethics have suggested that asking people to ex-ante pledge to behave ethically can reduce their level of dishonesty and noncompliance. However, pledges might also backfire by allowing more people to cheat with no real sanctions. Additionally, pledges’ effects have almost always been studied in one-shot decision making without sanctions. We explore pledges’ potential effects by manipulating whether pledges were accompanied by sanctions (fines) and testing their impact on sequential, repeated ethical decisions. We find that pledges can considerably and consistently reduce dishonesty, and this effect is not crowded out by the presence of fines. Furthermore, pledges also affect “brazen liars” who cheat to a large extent and also those who score low on tendency to follow rules and norms. We conclude that pledges could be an effective tool for the behavioral regulation of dishonesty, to reduce regulatory burden, and to build a more trusting relationship between government and the public.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)761-781
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Honesty pledges
  • behavioral policy
  • dishonesty
  • unethical behavior


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