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People lie only when they can save their face

People lie only when they can save their face
Highlights

People are likely to cheat on a task in favour of their self-interest only when the situation provides them enough room to save their face, says a study.

People are likely to cheat on a task in favour of their self-interest only when the situation provides them enough room to save their face, says a study.

To maintain the idea that we are moral people, we tend to lie or cheat only to the extent that we can justify our transgressions, the study said.

It suggests that situational ambiguity is one such avenue for justification that helps us preserve our lily-white image.
"Whether in sensational corporate scandals or more ordinary transgressions, individuals often violate ethical principles to serve their self-interest," said the researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.
"Our results suggest that such ethical failures are mostly likely to occur in settings in which ethical boundaries are blurred," they added.
Findings showed that people are apt to cheat in favour of their self-interest but only when the situation is ambiguous enough to provide moral cover.
"In ambiguous settings, people's motivation directs their attention towards tempting information, shaping their self-serving lies," said co-researcher Andrea Pittarello.
Using an "ambiguous dice" paradigm, the researchers had participants look at a computer screen that displayed the rolls of a total of six dice, while their gaze was monitored using eye-tracking equipment.
The participants were asked to report the number rolled for the die appearing closest to a designated target on the screen.
In one condition, participants were told that they would be paid according to the value they reported observing - thus, reporting a die roll of six would result in a bigger payoff than a die roll of five.
The participants could maximise their income by reporting a six for every trial, but then their cheating would be obvious and difficult to justify.
In another condition, participants were told they would be paid for the accuracy of their report.
Overall, the participants reported the correct value in about 84 percent of the pay-for-report trials and about 90 percent of the pay-for-accuracy trials.
"These results indicate that situations in which ambiguity is high are especially prone to self-serving interpretation of available information.
"If you seek to boost own or organisational ethical behaviour - then reduce ambiguity and make things clear," the researchers wrote.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.
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