Lying Because We Care: Compassion Increases Prosocial Lying
Prosocial lies, or lies intended to benefit others, are ubiquitous behaviors that have important social and economic consequences. Though emotions play a central role in many forms of prosocial behavior, no work has investigated how emotions influence behavior when one has the opportunity to tell a prosocial lie—a situation that presents a conflict between two prosocial ethics: lying to prevent harm to another, and honesty, which might also provide benefits to the target of the lie. Here, we examine whether the emotion of compassion influences prosocial lying, and find that compassion causally increases and positively predicts prosocial lying. In Studies 1 and 2, participants evaluated a poorly written essay and provided feedback to the essay writer. Experimentally induced compassion felt toward the essay writer (Study 1) and individual differences in trait compassion (Study 2) were positively associated with inflated feedback to the essay writer. In both of these studies, the relationship between compassion and prosocial lying was partially mediated by an enhanced importance placed on preventing emotional harm. In Study 3, we found moderation such that experimentally induced compassion increased lies that resulted in financial gains for a charity, but not lies that produced financial gains for the self. This research illuminates the emotional underpinnings of the common yet morally complex behavior of prosocial lying, and builds on work highlighting the potentially harmful effects of compassion—an emotion typically seen as socially beneficial.