The importance of being honest? Evidence that deception may not pollute social science subject pools after all

  • Max M. KrasnowEmail author
  • Rhea M. Howard
  • Adar B. Eisenbruch


Deceiving participants about the goals or content of a study is permitted in psychological research but is largely banned in economics journals and subject pools. This ban is intended to protect a public good: If experiencing deception causes participants to be suspicious in future studies, and suspicion meaningfully influences their behavior, then the entire field suffers. We report a survey of psychologists’ and economists’ attitudes toward deception (N = 568) and a large, nondeceptive multisite study in which we measured participants’ histories, suspicion levels, and behavior in four common economic tasks (N = 636). Economists reported more negative attitudes toward deceptive methods and greater support for the deception ban than did psychologists. The results of the behavioral study, however, do not support the “public good” argument for banning deception about the goals or content of a research study: Participants’ present suspicion was not clearly related to past experiences of deception, and there were no consistent behavioral differences between suspicious and credulous participants. We discuss the implications of these results for the ongoing debate regarding the acceptability of deceptive research methods.


Research methods Deception Economics Psychology 



We thank Nina Cohodes and the staff of the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory for coordinating the economics pool data collection at Harvard, Gary Charness for coordinating the use of the Experimental and Behavioral Economics Laboratory and the corresponding subject pool at UCSB, Patrick Mair for statistical consultation, and Alena A. Egner, Erin Mernoff, Carolyn Killea, Sierra Fan, Nwanneka Okwelogu, and KeeHup Yong for additional research assistance.

Open Practices Statement

The data for the experiments reported here are available online (, the materials are available by request to the corresponding author, and none of the experiments were preregistered.

Author Contributions

M.M.K. conceived of the experimental study and designed it with R.M.H. R.M.H. wrote code for the data acquisition. R.M.H. collected data at Harvard University and on Amazon Mechanical Turk; A.B.E. collected data at the University of California, Santa Barbara. R.M.H. and M.M.K. conceived and designed the survey study. M.M.K. and A.B.E. conducted the data analysis. All the authors wrote the manuscript and approved of the final version for publication.

Supplementary material

13428_2019_1309_MOESM1_ESM.docx (229 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 228 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Max M. Krasnow
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rhea M. Howard
    • 1
  • Adar B. Eisenbruch
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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