Do honesty pledges work?

Pledges often sound like a good idea but whether they are depends on various factors. Just ask Jim Comey.

In Honesty Pledges for the Behaviorally-based Regulation of Dishonesty, Eyal Pe’er, School of Public Policy, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,  and Yuval Feldman, Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University,  take up the topic of honesty pledges.   A study they conducted found, among other things, “that an ex-ante [before the event] pledge can reduce dishonesty significantly, considerably, and even when compared to a (maximally possible) fine. In addition, the effect of the pledge did not seem to decay over the (relatively short) period of time we examined in this study. Reminding participants about their pledge in the middle of the time interval did not add to the reduction in cheating. The effect of the pledge seems not to be restricted to the highly lawful or obedient participants, … Moreover, this effect was also evident when specifically examining those who cheated to a larger extent than others…”  The authors conclude “that pledges could be an effective tool for the behavioral regulation of dishonesty, reduce the regulatory burden, and build a more trusting relationship between government and the public, even in areas where incentives and opportunities to cheat are high.”

This paper could indeed be useful to some government officials regulating business  in determining when to substitute or supplement pledges for the harder edges of compliance   (e.g., monitoring).

To this I would add that it could also be relevant to internal company officials (and their advisors)  considering adding honesty pledges to their compliance arsenal.

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