(Not) alone in the world: Cheating in the presence of a virtual observer

Jantsje M. Mol, Eline C.M. van der Heijden, Jan J.M. Potters*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We conducted an experiment in a high-immersive virtual reality environment to study the effect of the presence of a virtual observer on cheating behavior. Participants were placed in a virtual room and played 30 rounds of a cheating game without a chance of their cheating being detected. We varied whether or not a virtual observer (an avatar) was present in the room, and, if so, whether the avatar was actively staring at the decision maker or passively seated in a corner watching his smartphone. Results display significantly less cheating with an active than with a passive avatar, but not less cheating than in a control condition without an avatar. This suggests that an active (virtual) observer can intensify reputational concerns, but that the presence of someone passive and uninterested may actually alleviate such concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)961-978
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Economics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Cheating
  • Virtual reality experiment
  • Watching eyes effect


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