In negotiations, hoodwinking others has a cost, study finds: Even when liars get more money, they feel guilty and unhappy

Lying to another person to get the better of them in a financial negotiation might win you more money, but you are likely to end up feeling guilty and less satisfied with the deal than if you had been honest, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Study author Alex Van Zant, PhD, of Rutgers University, and his colleagues wanted to see whether lying — and getting away with it — made liars more or less happy with the outcome of a negotiation.

“Although many people assume that deception elicits feelings of guilt, prior research found that getting away with unethical behavior leaves people feeling more satisfied with themselves,” Van Zant said. “But that research had primarily focused on private unethical behavior, like cheating on exams or taxes. It was unclear whether those findings might extend to telling a lie to someone whom the lie hurts directly, like a negotiation counterpart.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

To figure out whether people who lie to others end up feeling “deceiver’s guilt” or a “deceiver’s thrill,” the researchers recruited 982 online participants and grouped them into 491 pairs of sellers and buyers. Each had to negotiate the sale of a used laptop worth somewhere under $5000. In a dishonesty condition, the sellers were given the opportunity to dissemble — they were told that the laptop had a broken graphics card but that the buyer didn’t know that and wouldn’t find out. In a control condition, the buyers knew about the broken graphics card and the sellers knew that they knew.

Sellers and buyers were both offered an incentive to get the best deal they could. The sellers could get a small cash payment for every $250 above $3,750 that they managed to win in the negotiation over the sale price. The buyers, meanwhile, were offered a cash payment for every $250 under $3,750 that they paid for the laptop.

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