Lying for More Money Makes Cash Less Satisfying

It’s apparently impossible to buy off a guilty conscience
Lying for More Money Makes Cash Less Satisfying

No one likes getting scammed out of money, but some of those scammers aren’t enjoying themselves either. In fact, a new study suggests that they might be too consumed with guilt to appreciate the fruits of their grifts. 

Past research has shown that unethical behavior can increase a person’s self-satisfaction, but those experiments mostly focused on private cheating that didn’t hurt anyone directly. To better understand if people experience a sense of guilt or thrill after conning someone out of money, scientists paired up 982 participants as sellers and buyers for a mock negotiation about a used laptop worth around $5,000. 

In one group, both the seller and buyer were informed that the computer had a broken graphics card. In another group, only the seller was given this information; they were assured, though, that the buyer would never find out. Buyers and sellers were further incentivized to haggle with separate cash bonuses — sellers received a small payment for every $250 above $3,750 they could get for the laptop, whereas buyers received a payment for every $250 below $3,750. 

After buyers and sellers finished negotiating, they were privately surveyed about how they felt about the transaction, including if they felt satisfied with themselves or if they felt guilty. Unsurprisingly, the results revealed that when given the opportunity to lie, 74 percent of people chose to do so for their own gain. However, after the fact, they were less satisfied with the negotiation and experienced more guilt. Likewise, the bigger the cash bonus they received, the worse they felt about it. Even when study subjects rated qualities like compassion and fairness as less important, they were just as likely to feel remorse after lying. 

“Our investigation breaks new ground by showing how even undetected dishonesty harms negotiators,” study co-author Alex Van Zant, a researcher at Rutgers University, explained in a press release. “It leads negotiators to feel guilty, undermines their satisfaction and reduces their interest in continuing a relationship with counterparts. Considering dishonesty’s psychological and relational costs, living with the costs of dishonesty might be psychologically more challenging than forgoing its benefits.”

So as with love, it would seem money can’t buy a clear conscience either.

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