Do Tightwads Cheat More? An Experimental Study
Over the past two decades, behavioral economists and social psychologists have been designing numerous lab and field experiments with the purpose of deriving insights on people’s tendency to cheat. While the major experimental effort has been devoted to examining the effects of age, gender and background characteristics (e.g., field of study, academic achievement, creativity, religiousness, criminal past) on dishonest behavior, more recent studies have focused on the effects of cognitive and emotional states. In this spirit, the present paper reports the results of two field experiments designed to inquire whether tightwads, defined in the eco-psych literature as people who feel intense pain at the prospect of spending money, are more likely to cheat than other people in order to avoid spending money. In the first experiment, passersby at a Tel-Aviv shopping mall were asked to answer a questionnaire which determined their degree of tightwadness. They were thereafter invited to perform an "inverse" version of the popular die-under-the-cup task that incentivized underreporting of the actual die outcome to avoid paying money. The second experiment was conducted with Jerusalem cab drivers, many of whom avoid turning on their air conditioning systems on hot summer days. This behavior is despised by cab drivers who do activate their systems and perceive their misbehaving colleagues as stingy persons. The experiment involved riding both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned cabs in Jerusalem and offering drivers, at the end of the ride, to perform the "inverse" die-under-the-cup task. In both experiments, tightwadness was found to have a statistically-significant positive effect on dishonesty. The experimental findings are supported by a rational-choice model which predicts that cheating increases with the pain of spending money.