The attenuating effect of mortality salience on dishonest behavior

Simon Schindler, Marc André Reinhard, Sandra Dobiosch, Ina Steffan-Fauseweh, Galip Özdemir, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


People are easily tempted to engage in dishonest behavior when an incentive is given and when full anonymity is provided. In the present work, we investigated existential threat as a motivational factor that might reduce dishonest behavior. Research based on terror management theory has found that mortality salience increases the motivation to fulfill salient values of one’s cultural worldview. Assuming the concept of honesty is important to human societies, we hypothesized that mortality salience will reduce dishonest behavior when the concept of honesty is salient. In two experiments, we assessed dishonesty under full anonymity by applying a die-under-the-cup paradigm with the expected value serving as a stochastic baseline for honest behavior. Both experiments provided support for our hypothesis. Given an incentive to cheat, when the concept of honesty was cognitively activated by a word-search puzzle (Study 1) or by the name of the dice game (i.e., “honest game”; Study 2), mortality salient participants showed not only less dishonest behavior but actually honest behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-62
Number of pages11
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 15 2019


  • Cheating
  • Dishonest behavior
  • Honesty
  • Mortality salience
  • Terror management theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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