Pupil to pupil: The effect of a partner's pupil size on (dis)honest behavior
Abstract Being observed by others fosters honest behavior. In this study, we examine a very subtle eye signal that may affect participants' tendency to behave honestly: observed pupil size. For this, we use an experimental task that is known to evoke dishonest behavior. Specifically, participants made private predictions for a coin toss and earned a bonus by reporting correct predictions. Before reporting the (in)correctness of their predictions, participants viewed videos of partners with dilating or constricting pupils. As dilating pupils are generally perceived positively, we expected that dishonesty would be reduced when participants look into the eyes of a partner with dilating pupils, especially when their own pupil size mimics the observed pupil size. In line with this prediction, Experiments 1 and 2 showed that, when earning a bonus meant harming the interaction partner, dishonesty occurred less frequently when the partner's pupils dilated rather than constricted. That is, when the interests of the self and the other conflict, participants use the pupil of the partner as a social cue to inform their behavior. However, pupil mimicry was not observed. In Experiment 3, we examined pupil mimicry and dishonesty in a context where there was no temptation to hurt the partner. Here, pupil mimicry between partners was observed, but there were no effects of the partner's pupil on dishonesty. Thus, when dishonesty harms the interaction partner, participants use pupillary cues from their partner to inform their behavior. Pupil mimicry, however, is bound to non-competitive contexts only. Highlights People are reluctant to be dishonest to interaction partners with dilating pupils. Findings suggest that partners with dilating pupils are perceived more positively, resulting in more pro-social treatment. The pro-social effects of dilating pupils were most evident in competitive contexts. Pupil mimicry was restricted to non-competitive contexts. The effect of observed pupil dilation on dishonesty does not rely on the occurrence of pupil mimicry between partners.
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