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

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We investigate the credibility of nonbinding preplay 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4795-4812
JournalManagement Science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Cheap talk
  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Deception
  • Game show
  • Lying aversion
  • Prisoner’s dilemma


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