When lying feels the right thing to do

Sophie Van Der Zee1,2,4, Ross Anderson1 and Ronald Poppe3

1University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
2University of Cumbria, United Kingdom
3Utrecht University, Netherlands
4Networked Organisations, TNO, Netherlands
*Correspondence: Dr. Sophie Van Der Zee, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, sv361@cam.ac.uk


Fraud is a pervasive and challenging problem that costs society large amounts of money. By no means all fraud is committed by 'professional criminals': much is done by ordinary people who indulge in small-scale opportunistic deception. In this paper, we set out to investigate when people behave dishonestly, for example by committing fraud, in an online context. We conducted three studies to investigate how the rejection of one's efforts, operationalized in different ways, affected the amount of cheating and information falsification. Study 1 demonstrated that people behave more dishonestly when rejected. Studies 2 and 3 were conducted in order to disentangle the confounding factors of the nature of the rejection and the financial rewards that are usually associated with dishonest behavior. It was demonstrated that rejection in general, rather than the nature of a rejection, caused people to behave more dishonestly. When a rejection was based on subjective grounds, dishonest behavior increased with approximately 10%, but this difference was not statistically significant. We subsequently measured whether dishonesty was driven by the financial loss associated with rejection, or emotional factors such as a desire for revenge. We found that rejected participants were just as dishonest when their cheating did not led to financial gain. However, they felt stronger emotions when there was no money involved. This seems to suggest that upon rejection, emotional involvement, especially a reduction in happiness, drives dishonest behavior more strongly than a rational cost-benefit analysis. These results indicate that rejection causes people to behave more dishonestly, specifically in online settings. Firms wishing to deter customers and employees from committing fraud may therefore benefit from transparency and clear policy guidelines, discouraging people to submit claims that are likely to be rejected.


Van Der Zee S, Anderson R and Poppe R (2016). When lying feels the right thing to do. Front. Psychol. 7:734. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00734

Website contents

Below are the pages of the website that was used in Study 2 of the paper. Please note that the original website was dynamic. The materials here are for reference. The content is the same but there is no additional functionality (data collection, data checks, etc.):

List of pages in the online study:

  1. Welcome
  2. Demographics questionnaire
  3. Mood questionnaire
  4. Travel insurance guidelines
  5. Scenario: Stolen backpack
  6. Insurance claim
  7. Form validation (timer)
  8. Form validation
  9. Form validation (timer)
  10. Form feedback
  11. Mood questionnaire
  12. MF questionnaire (MFQ)
  13. Debriefing
  14. Real life questions (part 1)
  15. Real life questions (part 2)
  16. Thank you for your participation


© 2016 Van Der Zee, Anderson and Poppe. The materials on this website are part of an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in Frontiers in Psychology is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.