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Truth Telling as Justification for Selfish Action

by Johnson, David and Ryan, John

In this paper, we examine how interrogators can get potential sources to provide information which entails defecting from their group. In our experiment, subjects are faced with an interrogator either using coercive techniques or offering rewards. We argue that coercion and reward affect individuals who are “conditional defectors” differently. These individuals will defect only when they can justify that selfish action as either fair or truth telling. For subjects who possess the information the interrogator desires, these conditional defectors will provide that information in both treatments because they are simply telling the truth. For ignorant subjects, conditional defectors provide bad information under coercion because honestly stating ignorance leads to unequal outcomes. In the reward treatment, truthfully saying “I don’t know” leads to a more equal outcome. This means that interrogators receive more information under coercion, but that information is of lower quality

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