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Are White Lies as Innocuous as We Think?

Jennifer J. Argo and Baba Shiv
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 38, No. 6 (April 2012), pp. 1093-1102
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/661640
Stable URL:
Page Count: 10
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Are White Lies as Innocuous as We Think?
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This research examines the implications of telling an “innocent” white lie after a negative interpersonal encounter. We propose that if a white lie falls outside an acceptable range of dishonesty, cognitive dissonance will arise and produce negative affect. Deceivers will then be motivated to reduce the dissonance and will do so by engaging in behaviors that favor the wrongdoer with potentially negative consequences for the self. We test our conceptualization across three studies. In study 1, we explore the impact of one factor that determines whether a white lie falls outside the acceptable range of dishonesty—the salience of the norm of honesty. In studies 2 and 3, we examine the role of two factors, affect certainty and source certainty, that are predicted to moderate the impact of the negative affect on deceiver’s downstream judgments and behaviors toward the target of the white lie.

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