Having seen too much daytime television over the Easter Holidays, I began to wonder whether people actually try harder when the winning stakes are higher. Would you put more effort into winning £100,000 on a television game show or beating your brother at monopoly?
Lewis, Bardis, Flint, Mason, Smith, Tickle & Zinser (2012) suggest there is often more chance of dishonesty when trying to win money for charity. However, there are methodological issues which could be addressed.
All participants were students at the University of Bath, which limits the generalizability of results, as they were all obtained from the same geographical location. Secondly, the participants were heavily weighted female (n = 60) to male (n = 34). Combined with this, participants were more weighted towards Psychology students (n = 56) than Economics students (n = 38). The average age of 19.82 years also reduced the generalizability as there is no evidence to suggest the same findings would be obtained with older or younger participants.
The participants received delayed debriefing taking up to a week. Despite the reasoning, this practice appears unethical and could arguable cause distress to the participants. Finally, the results were compared by degree choice, in order to discover which participants were more inclined to lie. Economics students were reported to have stated much higher dice scores than Psychology students.
The idea that participants were completing the task in order to raise money for Cancer Research UK could be problematic. If the charity is not their charity of choice, participants may not have the same incentives to cheat compared to if they could raise money for a charity of their choice. Secondly, the maximum amount they could raise for the charity was 60 pence, and therefore it could be suggested participants saw this as a small amount which should easily go to charity without purposefully lying to raise a large amount of money.
Whether the participants would behave in the same manner when a large amount of money is at risk is not investigated. However, it is suggested participants are more inclined to lie when they believe its justified lying, perhaps in order to raise money for the charity. Despite this, they may simply be lying because they want to impress the researcher and not to raise more money for the charity. It could be a question of morals, where when winning money for charity, people are more inclined to put effort in.
Hoelzl & Rustichini (2005) suggest that individuals vary from overconfident to under confident when the task involved changes from “easy and familiar to unfamiliar” (p. 305). It is also suggested this effect appears more dominant whilst money is at risk compared to when it isn’t. Therefore, it could be the task itself. Participants may be more confident to lie when completing the relatively easy task, but the same results may not be obtained when completing a more difficult task.
Lesson to be learnt… trust Psychology students more than Economics students!
Hoelz, E. & Rustichini, A. (2005). Overconfident: Do you put your money on it? The Economic Journal, 115, 305-318. Doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0297.2005.00990.x
Lewis, A., Bardis, A., Flint, C., Mason, C., Smith, N., Tickle, C. & Zinser, J. (2012). Drawing the Line Somewhere: An Experiment of Moral Compromise. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 718-725. Doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2012.01.005