Menus Subscribe Search
money-degree

(PHOTO: LENETSTAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Who Is More Likely to Lie for Financial Gain?

• October 21, 2013 • 6:00 AM

(PHOTO: LENETSTAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

New research from Canada points to certain personal characteristics associated with a greater likelihood of lying, such as being a business major.

“Everybody lies” was the mantra of Gregory House, the curmudgeonly physician so memorably portrayed by Hugh Laurie. But being a man of science, the brilliant doctor might want to rethink that philosophy in light of new research from Canada.

In an experiment where lying led directly to financial gain, just over 50 percent of the participants told an untruth. That figure is roughly consistent with previous research.

What’s new in this study by University of Regina economist Jason Childs is its breakdown of the personality traits of the liars. Unlike some previous research, he did not find men are more likely to lie than women.

However, he discovered other factors predicted a greater likelihood of telling an untruth—including the assertion that religion plays an important role in your life.

Somewhere (or not), Christopher Hitchens is chuckling.

Childs’ experiment featured 400 students drawn from introductory economics classes at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan. After providing basic biographical information, they were paired off and assigned to play the role of either “sender” or “receiver.”

Senders were informed that the pair would receive a total of two payments: $5 and $15 in some cases, $5 and $7 in others. They would receive one of the amounts, while the receiver collected the other.

They were then told to send a message to the receiver, who sat in a nearby room, informing him or her of which payoff was greater. The receiver would presumably then choose to take the more lucrative one, leaving the sender stuck with the lower amount.

Unless, of course, he or she chose to fib.

So who lied for personal financial gain? “We find that sex, age, grade point average, student debt, size of return, socioeconomic status, and average time spent in religious observation are not related to the decision to lie,” Childs writes in the journal Economics Letters.

Among those more likely to lie for financial gain were:

• Business majors. “It could be that these students are more prone to lying by nature or training,” Childs writes. “It could also be that individuals strongly motivated by financial returns, and therefore more likely to lie for a monetary payoff, are more likely to pursue an education in business.” (Previous research has found higher levels of academic cheating among business majors.)

• Students whose parents were divorced. This is in line with expectations, in that past research has found children of divorce are more likely to engage in anti-social behavior. Perhaps the belief they’ve been cheated out of a happy childhood may lead them to feel cheating is OK.

• Those for whom religion was more important to their lives. “This is surprising,” Childs writes, as most religions “promote honesty as a virtue. It may be that students for whom religion was important feel separate from other students at this largely secular university,” and thus feel less compelled to be honest with them.

So, Dr. House’s cynicism aside, there are more than a few honest men—and women—out there. But if a friend with a business degree mentions he turned to religion to heal the wounds of his parents’ divorce … well, you may not want to make him your financial advisor.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.