Paternalistic lies

Matthew J. Lupoli, Emma E. Levine, Adam E. Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Many lies that are intended to help others require the deceiver to make assumptions about whether lying serves others’ best interests. In other words, lying often involves a paternalistic motive. Across seven studies (N = 2,260), we show that although targets appreciate lies that yield unequivocal benefits relative to honesty, they penalize paternalistic lies. We identify three mechanisms behind the harmful effects of paternalistic lies, finding that targets believe that paternalistic liars (a) do not have benevolent intentions, (b) are violating their autonomy by lying, and (c) are inaccurately predicting their preferences. Importantly, targets’ aversion towards paternalistic lies persists even when targets receive their preferred outcome as a result of a lie. Additionally, deceivers can mitigate some, but not all, of the harmful effects of paternalistic lies by directly communicating their good intentions. These results contribute to our understanding of deception and paternalistic policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-50
Number of pages20
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Deception
  • Moral judgments
  • Paternalism
  • Prosocial lies

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