The effect of leadership on free-riding: results from a public-good experiment

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We examine the impact of two types of communication: (i) encouragement of honesty and (ii) encouragement of lying that benefits the group. Subjects choose contributions to a public good, with a portion of the contribution framed as determined by a self-reported die roll. While honesty is typically viewed as desirable, in our setting it is more equivocal, since it results in a sub-optimal group payoff. We find that when leaders encourage their followers to lie in a cooperative way, followers increase these “die roll” contributions. There is also a positive spillover into additional discretionary contributions to the public good. By contrast, the way leaders are chosen and their observed contribution history have little effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-63
Number of pages33
JournalReview of Behavioral Economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • leader
  • cheap talk
  • lying
  • honesty
  • group culture

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