Dishonest responding or true virtue? A behavioral test of impression management

Ingo Zettler* (Corresponding Author), Benjamin E. Hilbig, Morten Moshagen, Reinout E. de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Impression management or social desirability scales have been used widely to assess and control for self-favoring biases in self-reports, both in low and high demand situations. Recently, however, substantive interpretations of impression management scores have surfaced, including the simple but troubling proposition that high scores in impression management scales actually reflect honesty rather than dishonest responding. In line with findings indicating that respondents answer to personality questionnaires rather accurately in typical low demand situations, we herein suggest that high impression management scores indeed reflect true virtues rather than dishonesty under such conditions. We found support for this idea by replicating previous correlations between impression management scores and virtue-related basic personality traits (including honesty-humility), and additionally provided conclusive behavioral evidence: We linked scores on an impression management scale administered under typical low demand condition to behavior in an incentivized, anonymous cheating task. The results clearly indicate that low scores in impression management are associated with more cheating. That is, high - and not low - scores on the impression management scale of the Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding are aligned with more virtuous, honest behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-111
Number of pages5
JournalPersonality and individual differences
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Honesty
  • Impression management
  • Social desirability
  • Socially desirable responding
  • Cheating


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