(Not) alone in the world: Cheating in the presence of a virtual observer

Abstract

We conducted an experiment in a high-immersive virtual reality environment to study the effect of the presence of a virtual observer on cheating behavior. Par- ticipants were placed in a virtual room and played 30 rounds of a cheating game without a chance of their cheating being detected. We varied whether or not a vir- tual observer (an avatar) was present in the room, and, if so, whether the avatar was actively staring at the decision maker or passively seated in a corner watching his smartphone. Results display significantly less cheating with an active than with a passive avatar, but not less cheating than in a control condition without an avatar. This suggests that an active (virtual) observer can intensify reputational concerns, but that the presence of someone passive and uninterested may actually alleviate such concerns. Open access PDF at publisher

Publication
Experimental Economics