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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2019 Jul 18. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000200. [Epub ahead of print]

The economic and interpersonal consequences of deflecting direct questions.

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Department of Management and Organizations.
Department of Operations, Information and Decisions.


Direct, difficult questions (e.g., Do you have other offers? When do you plan on having children?) pose a challenge. Respondents may incur economic costs for honestly revealing information, reputational costs for engaging in deception, and interpersonal costs, including harm to perceptions of trust and liking, for directly declining to answer the question (e.g., I would rather not answer that question.). Across 8 experiments, we explore the relative economic and interpersonal consequences of a fourth approach: deflection, answering a direct question with another question. We describe how individuals infer the respondent's communication motive from their response (e.g., a motive to seek or hide information), and how these inferences influence perceptions of the respondent's trust and likability. We contrast deflection with other types of responses and show that deflection causes significantly less reputational harm than detected deception and causes significantly less interpersonal harm than directly declining to answer a question. In some cases, deflection even yields better interpersonal and economic outcomes than honest disclosures (e.g., deflecting questions about prior acts of untrustworthy behavior). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).


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