Lying to appear honest

Shoham Choshen-Hillel*, Alex Shaw, Eugene M. Caruso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


People try to avoid appearing dishonest. Although efforts to avoid appearing dishonest can often reduce lying, we argue that, at times, the desire to appear honest can actually lead people to lie. We hypothesize that people may lie to appear honest in cases where the truth is highly favorable to them, such that telling the truth might make them appear dishonest to others. A series of studies provided robust evidence for our hypothesis. Lawyers, university students, and MTurk and Prolific participants said that they would have underreported extremely favorable outcomes in real-world scenarios (Studies 1a-1d). They did so to avoid appearing dishonest. Furthermore, in a novel behavioral paradigm involving a chance game with monetary prizes, participants who received in private a very large number of wins reported fewer wins than they received; they lied and incurred a monetary cost to avoid looking like liars (Studies 2a-2c). Finally, we show that people's concern that others would think that they have overreported is valid (Studies 3a-3b). We discuss our findings in relation to the literatures on dishonesty and on reputation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1719-1745
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Emma Levine and Jane Risen for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of this article. We are also thankful to a team of excellent research assistants at the Hebrew University, led by Mika Guz-ikevits and Maya Enisman. We thank the Recanati Fund of the School of Business Administration at the Hebrew University and the Social Enterprise Initiative at Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago, for funding. Finally, Shoham Choshen-Hillel thanks her father, Dr. Ehud Choshen, Adv., for being the inspiration for Study 1a, as well as for being the inspiration for her research career in general.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Psychological Association.


  • "Behavioral ethics"
  • Decision-making
  • Honesty
  • Lying
  • Social signaling


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