Second-semester undergraduate research assistant, Paxton Hicks, recently presented the article “I Cheated, but Only a Little: Partial Confessions to Unethical Behavior” (Peer et al., 2014).
Lying is described as the intentional act of conveying incorrect information to mislead another individual and may have several motivations. Confessions are viewed as either someone confessing or not, which can be problematic as some confessions are partial. They provide a grey area to confessions since they are hand-picking what to reveal. The authors of this article propose that partial confessions may minimize guilt and motivate providing part of the information. The purposes of the study include (1) examining the prevalence of partial confessions, (2) the antecedents of partial confessions, and (3) the consequences of partial confessions.
This article included five studies and each study had mean ages ranging from 28-34 recruited from Amazon MTurk. The hypotheses of each study are as followed: H1: Extent of cheating and the likelihood of confessing to all or some of the cheating, H2: Individuals partially confessing will be perceived as more trustworthy than both of those that fully confess or do not confess at all, H3: Do people feel better or worse when partially confessing?, H4: Individuals will perceive others who partially confess as more honest than those who do not confess at all, and H5: Do these results apply to daily life occurrences? How will people classify their confessions? In each of the five studies, participants were given a task and then a questionnaire measuring confession, mood and prospective mood, factors of individuals’ reasons for confessing, and the extent of the confession.
After reviewing the results of each study, Hicks revisited the hypotheses. For H1, it was found that of the 139 confessors, 40.44% were partial confessions, 59-56% were full confessions, and individuals who partially cheat were more likely to fully confess and vice versa. H2 was partially supported as partial confessions were more credible than non-confessions (t(492)= 4.93, p< .01), but not for full confessions. H3 results suggest that partial confessions led to higher levels of actual negative affect across all groups. H4 was supported as partial confessions were higher in credibility ratings than non-confessions (t(437) = 3.14, p < .01). H5 shows that full confessions were significantly higher than partial confessions in all motivation domains of confession except public shame.
Limitations of the study include that the stakes of the experiment were low (.10-$1) despite the relatively high frequency of cheating/lying as higher stakes scenarios may produce better results. The study included small sample size and the use of parametric tests. Additionally, Hicks recognizes that there may be measurement errors in some of the studies which lead to the curiousness that there may be more human errors included in the data.
While confessions were not manipulated, this study gives insight into the prevalence and some of the potential outcomes and perceptions. It showed that others’ partial confessions were viewed as more credible than no confession at all and led to many future research directions for Paxton. He will be conducting his own study based on his interest in confessions and lying. We are excited to see what he accomplishes!