Study of the Day: How Dishonesty Can Be Good for Consumers

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New research shows that customers who lie during a service encounter are more satisfied than truth tellers when they get their desired outcomes.

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PROBLEM: The marketplace offers plenty of opportunities for consumers to lie to get what they want. Last year, Apple even introduced a warranty program that covers accidental damage, presumably to lessen the chances that customers would claim that their phones malfunctioned when they really just dropped them. Still, are consumers really better off when they resort to dishonesty to get better deals?

METHODOLOGY: University of Sydney researchers Christina I. Anthony and Elizabeth Cowley conducted a series of experiments where subjects either told the truth or lied during conversations with service providers to pursue a prize. In one trial, participants responded to questions that resulted in their ineligibility, but were still given a chance to lie to the study administrator to be able to compete.

RESULTS: The subjects who lied reported more extreme evaluations of their outcomes than the truth tellers. They tended to be more pleased when they received their reward and more disgruntled when they were defeated. The authors saw similar results when participants negotiated with a service provider who could only be persuaded with a lie and when they asked for a refund that fell outside the terms of the policy.

CONCLUSION: Compared to honest consumers, liars have stronger emotional responses to the results of service encounters. They are happier when they succeed and sadder when they fail.

IMPLICATION: Dishonest clients may be more reactive because lying is hard work. "Because liars are busy lying, they have fewer mental resources available for other tasks. One such important task involves using feedback from the listener to update one's expectations about how the conversation is progressing," the authors wrote. "Consequently, liars are more surprised by the final outcome than truth tellers, which, in turn, results in a stronger reaction to it."

SOURCE: The full study, "The Labor of Lies: How Lying for Material Rewards Polarizes Consumers' Outcome Satisfaction," is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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