Article | Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes | March 2014

Cheating More for Less: Upward Social Comparisons Motivate the Poorly Compensated to Cheat

by Leslie John, George Loewenstein and Scott Rick

Abstract

Intuitively, people should cheat more when cheating is more lucrative, but we find that the effect of performance-based pay rates on dishonesty depends on how readily people can compare their pay rate to that of others. In Experiment 1, participants were paid 5 cents or 25 cents per self-reported point in a trivia task, and half were aware that they could have received the alternative pay rate. Lower pay rates increased cheating when the prospect of a higher pay rate was salient. Experiment 2 illustrates that this effect is driven by the ease with which poorly compensated participants can compare their pay to that of others who earn a higher pay rate. Our results suggest that low pay rates are, in and of themselves, unlikely to promote dishonesty. Instead, it is the salience of upward social comparisons that encourages the poorly compensated to cheat.

Keywords: dishonesty; decision making; social comparison; fairness; pay secrecy; Motivation and Incentives; Fairness; Decision Making; Compensation and Benefits;

Citation:

John, Leslie, George Loewenstein, and Scott Rick. "Cheating More for Less: Upward Social Comparisons Motivate the Poorly Compensated to Cheat." Special Issue on Behavioral Ethics. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 123, no. 2 (March 2014): 101–109.