Desire for material gain also motivates people to lie. When this desire motivates lying, the consequences are likely to be negative – not only for the person caught trying to deceive others but for other people. When people lie out of self-interest, their deceptive behavior becomes a social norm. Lying is socially contagious in that when people see the precedent that dishonesty is appropriate, they are more likely to lie themselves. However, not all lying is contagious. Although people emulate the dishonesty of those whom they consider to be in their “in-group,” they become less likely to lie when they observe out-group members being dishonest (Gino, Ayal, & Ariely, 2009).
Not everyone will judge harshly people who lie out of desire for material gain. In some organizations, people will reward such deception because it can benefit colleagues and clients. As Pierce and Snyder (in press) demonstrated, employees who lie on behalf of customers are rewarded with greater financial gain and lower risk of termination. Their willingness to lie becomes social currency coveted by those who stand to benefit from their dishonesty.
One factor that prevents people from lying for personal gain is the need/desire to see oneself as a moral person. Lying motivates people to rationalize and justify their lies to themselves, so that they may continue to see themselves as good. When people morally disengage from the situation by rationalizing their behavior, they set themselves up to lie more in the future because they have already found a way to justify dishonesty. Resultantly deception of one type can lead to other forms of deception. For example, people who were asked to wear counterfeit sunglasses came to feel as though they were inauthentic. Consequently, these people became more likely than those in a control condition to over-report their performances on subsequent tasks to earn money. Small initial lies may therefore yield escalating forms of dishonesty, which is concerning because monitors have more difficulty noticing and policing a slow erosion of ethics compared to abrupt moral degradation.
Dishonesty motivated by desire for personal gain can also lead people to forget the rules that are intended to govern their behavior. As Shu and Gino (2012) have shown, people who lie will sometimes forget rules about lying while remembering other sorts of details. Additionally, liars may present themselves as virtuous by condemning others for the same types of deception that they themselves perpetrated.
Fortunately, self-interested deception does not always result in further deception. People will sometimes morally compensate for past dishonesty through prosocial actions or justifications for their behavior.