Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 52–62 | Cite as

The attenuating effect of mortality salience on dishonest behavior

  • Simon SchindlerEmail author
  • Marc-André Reinhard
  • Sandra Dobiosch
  • Ina Steffan-Fauseweh
  • Galip Özdemir
  • Jeff Greenberg
Original Paper


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.


Dishonest behavior Cheating Mortality salience Terror management theory Honesty 


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KasselKasselGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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