Clever enough to tell the truth
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We conduct a field experiment on 427 Israeli soldiers who each rolled a six-sided die in private and reported the outcome. For every point reported, the soldier received an additional half-hour early release from the army base on Thursday afternoon. We find that the higher a soldier’s military entrance score, the more honest he is on average. We replicate this finding on a sample of 156 civilians paid in cash for their die reports. Furthermore, the civilian experiments reveal that two measures of cognitive ability predict honesty, whereas general self-report honesty questions and a consistency check among them are of no value. We provide a rationale for the relationship between cognitive ability and honesty and discuss its generalizability.
KeywordsHonesty Cognitive ability Soldiers High non-monetary stakes
JEL CodesC93 M51
We thank Johannes Abeler, Yuval Arbel, Ofer Azar, Ronen Bar-El, Bram Cadsby, Danny Cohen-Zada, Leif Danziger, Nadja Dwenger, Naomi Feldman, Lan Guo, Shachar Kariv, Jonathan Mamujee, Mattia Pavoni, Chet Robie, Tata Pyatigorsky-Ruffle, Jonathan Schulz, Ze’ev Shtudiner, Justin Smith, Fei Song, Michal Kolodner-Tobol, Ro’i Zultan, an editor of this journal, David Cooper, two anonymous referees and numerous seminar participants for helpful comments. We also are grateful to Capt. Sivan Levi and Meytal Sasson for research assistance, Capt. Itamar Cohen for facilitating the soldier experiments and all of the commanding officers for granting us access to their units. A preliminary version of this paper circulated under the title, “Screening for Honesty”.
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