Malleable Lies: Communication and Cooperation in a High Stakes TV Game Show


We investigate the credibility of non-binding pre-play statements about cooperative behavior, using data from a high-stakes TV game show in which contestants play a variant on the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma. We depart from the conventional binary approach of classifying statements as promises or not, and propose a more fine-grained two-by-two typology inspired by the idea that lying aversion leads defectors to prefer statements that are malleable to ex-post interpretation as truths. Our empirical analysis shows that statements that carry an element of conditionality or implicitness are associated with a lower likelihood of cooperation, and confirms that malleability is a good criterion for judging the credibility of cheap talk.

Accepted at Management Science