Dishonesty is an intriguing phenomenon, studied extensively across various disciplines due to its impact on people’s lives as well as society in general. To examine dishonesty in a controlled setting, researchers have developed a number of experimental paradigms. One of the most popular approaches in this regard, is the matrix task, in which participants receive matrices wherein they have to find two numbers that sum to 10 (e.g., 4.81 and 5.19), under time pressure. In a next phase, participants need to report how many matrices they had solved correctly, allowing them the opportunity to cheat by exaggerating their performance in order to get a larger reward. Here, we argue, both on theoretical and empirical grounds, that the matrix task is ill-suited to study dishonest behavior, primarily because it conflates cheating with honest mistakes. We therefore recommend researchers to use different paradigms to examine dishonesty, and treat (previous) findings based on the matrix task with due caution.

matrix task, cheating, ethical behavior, dishonesty, validity,
Collabra: Psychology
Department of Psychology, Education & Child Studies

Heyman, T, Vankrunkelsven, H, Voorspoels, W, White, A, Storms, G, & Verheyen, S. (2020). When cheating is an honest mistake. Collabra: Psychology, 6(1). doi:10.1525/collabra.294