When Cheating Would Make You a Cheater: Implicating the Self Prevents Unethical Behavior

When Cheating Would Make You a Cheater: Implicating the Self Prevents Unethical Behavior

By
Christopher J. Bryan, Gabrielle S. Adams, Benoît Monin
Journal of Experimental Psychology. November
2013, Vol. 142, Issue 4, Pages 1001-1005

In 3 experiments using 2 different paradigms, people were less likely to cheat for personal gain when a subtle change in phrasing framed such behavior as diagnostic of an undesirable identity. Participants were given the opportunity to claim money they were not entitled to at the experimenters’ expense; instructions referred to cheating with either language that was designed to highlight the implications of cheating for the actor’s identity (e.g., “Please don’t be a cheater”) or language that focused on the action (e.g., “Please don’t cheat”). Participants in the “cheating” condition claimed significantly more money than did participants in the “cheater” condition, who showed no evidence of having cheated at all. This difference occurred both in a face-to-face interaction (Experiment 1) and in a private online setting (Experiments 2 and 3). These results demonstrate the power of a subtle linguistic difference to prevent even private unethical behavior by invoking people’s desire to maintain a self-image as good and honest.