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Lying Aversion and Vague Communication: An Experimental Study

Keh-Kuan Sun and Stella Papadokonstantaki

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Abstract: An agent may strategically employ a vague message to mislead an audience's belief about the state of the world, but this may cause the agent to feel guilt or negatively impact how the audience perceives the agent. Using a novel experimental design that allows participants to be vague while at the same time isolating the internal cost of lying from the social identity cost of appearing dishonest, we explore the extent to which these two types of lying costs affect communication. We find that participants exploit vagueness to be consistent with the truth, while at the same time leveraging the imprecision to their own benefit. More participants use vague messages in treatments where concern with social identity is relevant. In addition, we find that social identity concerns substantially affect the length and patterns of vague messages used across the treatments.

Date: 2023-01, Revised 2023-09
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cbe, nep-exp and nep-gth
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Published in European Economic Review 160 (November 2023): 104611

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