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Psychol Sci. 2009 Sep;20(9):1153-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02421.x. Epub 2009 Aug 7.

Dishonesty in the name of equity.

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1
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3490, USA. fgino@unc.edu

Abstract

Under what conditions do people act dishonestly to help or hurt others? We addressed this question by examining the influence of a previously overlooked factor-the beneficiary or victim of dishonest acts. In two experiments, we randomly paired participants and manipulated their wealth levels through an initial lottery. We then observed how inequity between partners influenced the likelihood of one dishonestly helping or hurting the other, while varying the financial incentives for dishonest behavior. The results show that financial self-interest cannot fully explain people's tendency to dishonestly help or hurt others. Rather, such dishonesty is influenced by emotional reactions to wealth-based inequity, even when the dishonesty bears a personal financial cost. Envy evoked by negative inequity led to hurting behavior, whereas guilt induced by positive inequity motivated helping behavior. Finally, inequity between the partner and third parties triggered dishonest helping through empathy with the partner.

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