The Deceiver and the Deceived: Effects of Recollecting Prosocial Lying on Emotions and Values
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Prosocial lying—or lying to be polite—is a common behavior. Very limited research, however, has examined individuals’ recollection of telling versus being told prosocial lies. This study explored attitudes and behaviors related recalling prosocial lying experiences. We hypothesized that recalling deceiving versus being deceived would influence subsequent judgements of the importance of different values (i.e., honesty vs. kindness). Specifically, we predicted that participants who recollected telling a prosocial lie would report kindness as more important than participants who recalled being the recipient of such a lie. Thus, participants (N = 243) were randomly assigned to two conditions: (1) participants were asked to recall a time they told a prosocial lie and (2) participants were asked to recall a time they think someone told them a prosocial lie. Afterwards, participants answered questions regarding which value was more important in relationships (kindness versus honesty) as well as their attitudes about the recalled experience (e.g., levels of relief; levels of betrayal). Our hypothesis was supported. Participants who recalled telling lies rated kindness as more important whereas those who recalled being told lies felt honesty was more important in relationships. Additionally, contrary to the idea that white lies are a kind behavior, participants had negative associations with being told such lies. These findings have implications for how individuals feel about prosocial lying and suggest that recollections of past social behavior can influence more abstract social judgements. Given the negative affect associated with being told a prosocial lie, future research should compare feelings when told such lies versus blunt truths.