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Economists: cheaters with altruistic instincts

Muñoz-Izquierdo, Nora and Gil-Gómez de Liaño, Beatriz and Rin-Sánchez, Francisco Daniel and Pascual-Ezama, David (2014): Economists: cheaters with altruistic instincts.

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Abstract

Based on an experiment conducted with undergraduate students from three different majors (business economics, psychology and engineering), we study the relationship between honesty and altruism. We asked participants to toss a coin with a black and a white side. Participants won a chocolate if they reported the white outcome, whereas no gift was given if they reported black. It was done privately, so they could decide whether or not to cheat. Reporting the prize-losing side (that is, being honest when losing) could result in 3 effects, depending on the 3 conditions run: (i) no penalty, (ii) paying a penalty, or (iii) paying a penalty with an altruistic end (a donation to a non-profit organization). The amount of penalty was decided by each participant and the payment was also done in private. Although we cannot detect dishonesty on an individual level, we use statistical inference to determine cheating behavior. We find suggestive evidence that economics is significantly the most dishonest major when no penalty is involved. With economists in the lead, the results also indicate that all majors cheat if a penalty is requested. Surprisingly, when altruism plays a role, economists tend to have the most altruistic behavior, followed by psychologists. However, altruism does not reduce engineers' propensity to lie. No significant differences are found regarding gender.

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