Research Highlights - July 2019

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Hardly anyone says they like liars. Deception, in the form of fraud, embezzling, and corruption, costs the economy a great deal of money and undermines the economy’s underlying moral fabric. Furthermore, companies expose themselves to greater risk by hiring deceivers.

But when it comes time to negotiating a big sale, it turns out we tolerate people stretching the truth, and even expect it. In fact, new research published in the journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes finds that the ability to deceive is viewed as a sign of competence in jobs that require selling. Managers perceive the ability to deceive as an asset in occupations that are stereotyped as high in “selling orientation.” 

In two pilot studies, the researchers asked participants to rate thirty-two occupations as “high” or “low” in selling orientation, reflecting the degree to which occupational members persuade others to make immediate purchases as part of their jobs. In four subsequent studies, the researchers honed-in on three occupations that are stereotyped as particularly high in selling orientation — sales, investment banking, & advertising — as well as three occupations that participants viewed as relatively low in selling orientation — consulting, nonprofit management, & accounting.

The researchers then ran experiments in which participants observed individuals lying or acting honestly in a variety of circumstances (for example, when reporting their expenses after a business trip or when completing an economic game in the laboratory). Finally, participants judged how successful and competent a liar or honest individual would be in occupations that were high or low in selling orientation — and, in two of the studies, whether to hire them into those occupations.

Among the key findings: Participants believed that liars would be more successful in high-selling orientation occupations (such as investment banking, advertising, and sales) than low selling-orientation occupations (such as nonprofit management and accounting). Furthermore, participants believed that liars would be more successful than honest people in high-selling orientation occupations.

Indeed, when participants had the...

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