Does it matter what people lie about?

Stefanie Jung, Peter Krebs, Monika Leszczynska*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paper / PreprintDiscussion paper

Abstract

Should a lie in pre-contractual negotiations that is found immoral give a right to rescind a contract? Does it depend on the subject of a lie? These questions have been addressed by many legal philosophers and contractual theorists. However, the perspective of the key stakeholders (i.e., laypeople) has been largely missing. To understand how individuals assess the moral wrongfulness of lying in pre-contractual negotiations we performed two vignette studies. We also studied whether moral assessments differ from people’s judgments on how lies should be treated by law, i.e., whether the deceived party should have a right to rescind the contract. Finally, we test whether these differences depend on what negotiators lie about.

We conducted two vignette studies (N = 832 and N = 181), in which we presented participants with scenarios describing business negotiations involving lying about various subjects. Our main result reveals that people are more likely to assess lies as immoral than to indicate that the deceived party should have a right to rescind the contract. This difference varies depending on the subject of a lie – the assessments diverge the most when sellers lie about product availability or alternative offers but are almost fully aligned in case of lies about the reservation price and the subject matter of a contract. We also show that the majority of respondents find lies about personal preferences, reservation price, and time pressure as well as lies by the buyer about having an alternative offer moral and do not think that such lies should lead to a voidable contract. In the second study, we further explored which factors people consider when assessing whether a lie should give a right to rescind a contract. We showed that indeed morality is not the only factor considered when evaluating legal consequences of lies, but that people do also take into account, for instance, the economic consequences of lies and existing negotiation practices.
Original languageEnglish
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2021

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