International interest in Marco Piovesan's recent paper – Københavns Universitet

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23. februar 2015

International interest in Marco Piovesan's recent paper

From Washington Post to Michigan Radio: the international press has an eye on research uncovering dishonesty. Marco Piovesan now publish his own popular explanation of the theme at

We serve you parts of the article here. For the full length article, please go to

"Dishonesty is a widespread and multifaceted phenomenon: every day, the news brings reports of corporate dishonesty generating millions of dollars of costs to society. These public scandals, however, account only for a small part of dishonesty in society. Many ordinary people who consider themselves honest nevertheless sometimes cheat on taxes, steal from the workplace, illegally download music from the Internet, or use public transportation without paying the fare. The social cost of small-scale dishonesty is surprisingly large. As Dan Ariely summarizes in a recent article, the ‘tax gap’ – the difference between what the IRS estimates taxpayers should pay and what they actually pay – exceeds $300 billion annually; and employee theft and fraud is estimated at $600 billion a year in the United States."

Read the scientific paper On the Origins of Dishonesty: From Parents to Children.

"In our experiment, we considered both moral costs as well as scrutiny – being observed by others – as key factors influencing dishonesty. In particular, we were interested in whether the scrutiny of a son or daughter might change a parent’s willingness to cheat for profit gains.

We argue that parents transmit honest behavior because acting dishonestly imposes a moral cost, and this cost is strongest when the child is in the room. Moreover, our analysis enables us to discover empirically whether this scrutiny effect differs according to whether the child is a son or a daughter.

Parents cheat little when their child is present

We observe the highest level of cheating in the setting with low moral cost and no scrutiny: when the parent is alone and the prize is for the child. Overall, parents cheat little when their child is present. That is, the impulse to benefit one’s child through dishonest acts is extinguished by that same child’s scrutiny, perhaps due to the parent’s desire to model honesty. At the same time, when parents are alone, they cheat more when the prize is for their child than when it is for themselves. Thus, the impulse to benefit one’s child through dishonesty seems substantially greater than the impulse to benefit oneself in the same way.

Dishonestly in front of sons

Importantly, we find that parents are more likely to act dishonestly in front of sons than daughters . This finding may shed light on the origins of the widely documented gender differences in cheating behavior among adults. Perhaps daughters, from very young ages, are more likely to witness honest decisions and ethical behavior. If so, the importance of honesty might be promoted to a greater degree in daughters than sons. Lessons learned when young are not easily forgotten, and this may help to explain the relatively greater importance that women attach to moral norms and standards in general, and the higher rates of honesty among women in particular.

Here is what we did: Parents of 3-6 year-old children (mostly mothers, since mothers were much more likely to accompany their kids to our lab) tossed a coin and earned money depending on the outcome of the toss. We arranged things so that parents were able to increase their earnings by misreporting the outcome of the coin toss. In fact, because the coin toss was private, experimenters never knew whether any particular participant lied. In some cases, the child was in the room watching the parent’s decisions, and in some cases the parent was alone when making these decisions. We also varied whether the prize earned was cash for the parent or an equally valuable toy for the child."

The fact that parents lie more to sons than to daughters is news that has been travelling the world. Here is where you find more citations to Marco's work amongst others: