MUNICH, Germany — Nobody likes a liar, but telling a fib or cheating in a game comes much easier to people when done with a team of others, a new study finds.
Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) in Germany recruited 273 students to take part in a truth-telling experiment, either solo or in a group.
Participants, who were shown a video clip of a dice roll and asked to report on the roll’s outcome, had to decide whether to lie in order to receive additional compensation.
The researchers found that those situated in a group setting, who were afforded the ability to discuss with others the best course of action to take, were more likely to fib about the number on the dice’s face.
“Our findings are unequivocal: People are less likely to lie if they decide on their own,” says researcher Martin Kocher in a university news release.
This finding was backed up by the fact that even those who were likely to report truthfully on their own showed an increased tendency for mendacity in a group setting, which the researchers termed a “dishonesty shift.”
Ultimately, being in a group allowed participants to question the value of various norms, such as being truthful, they explained.
This feedback loop reinforces itself in that group discussions make normally compliant individuals more skeptical of the behavior of their peers, allowing them to justify their lack of honesty.
Since this research did not entail any punishment for individuals who misreported, further inquiry could examine whether sanctions could dissuade dishonest behavior.
For many private sector firms, such as Enron, deterrents have previously proven insufficient, they note.
“It is striking that many of the most prominent instances of corporate cheating in recent years have involved groups,” explains researcher Lisa Spantig.
Establishing strong ethics norms, along with regimented decision-making processes, may be the keys to preventing fallacies from taking hold.
The full study was published in August in the journal Management Science.