Bridging Self-Concept Maintenance and Truth-Default Theories
The present research examines the effects of topic intensity, categorization, and the raising of attention to moral standards have on honesty in communication. This study sought to extend a theory of deception from behavioral economics, self-concept maintenance (Mazar et al., 2008), to the field of communication studies. Participants gave two extemporaneous speeches about their opinions on two social topics, one high-intensity and one low-intensity. Participants also completed a questionnaire in which they wrote about their speeches in an open-ended format and completed self-reported honesty measures. Half of the participants in the study received honesty reminders throughout the duration of the study. Analyses revealed that writing about a high-intensity topic significantly lowered the amount of self-references participants used, and significantly raised the amount of negative emotion present in their word choice as compared to writing about a low-intensity topic, which is an indication of deceit in communication. Writing about a high-intensity topic also lowered the amount of authenticity used in the word choice of participants. However, the intensity of the topic had no significant effect on the self-reported honesty scores of participants. Honesty reminders had no significant effect on the word choice of participants nor their self-reported honesty. The findings of this study provide insight into the effects of topic intensity and communication context on honesty and the self-concept of communicators, as well as reveal the extent to which the tenets of self-concept maintenance (Mazar et al., 2008) extend to communication. Limitations and future research are discussed.