Temptation shapes dishonesty and can alter working memory

Andrea Pittarello, Marcella Fratescu, Sebastiaan Mathôt*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This study shows that participants tend to remember an ambiguous, directional cue as biased towards stimuli associated with a high reward that can be attained dishonestly. Participants saw eight digits presented in a circular arrangement. On some trials, they were asked to report the digit (“Target Digit”) indicated by a jittery cue that was slightly biased in the direction of another digit (“Second Cued Digit”), which was either higher or lower than the Target Digit. Participants were paid based on the reported digit (higher digits meant higher pay) and not based on the accuracy of their report. In this setting, they could make self-serving mistakes by dishonestly reporting the Second Cued Digit when it was higher than the Target Digit. Replicating prior work, participants frequently made such self-serving mistakes. On other trials, after the digits disappeared, participants were asked to reproduce the direction of the jittery cue, without receiving any pay. Results showed that that participants’ reports of the cue were more biased toward high-rewarding digits than low-rewarding digits. This research provides preliminary evidence of a link between attention, dishonesty, and memory, offering an important constraint for theories in behavioral ethics.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30-Sep-2021


  • Attention
  • Ethical blind spots
  • Memory
  • Morality
  • Temptation

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