Cheating for the cause: The effects of performance-based pay on socially oriented misreporting

Jessen L. Hobson, Ryan D. Sommerfeldt, Laura W. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine the effect of performance-based pay on misreporting intended to benefit a social mission. We show that performance-based pay decreases people’s propensity to misreport for a social mission in a not-for-profit setting (Experiment 1). We similarly show that in a for-profit setting, performance-based pay also decreases misreporting propensity for a social mission, although not for a non-social mission (Experiment 2). Finally, using a framed field experiment with participants attending a conference hosted by a real charity, we show that performance-based pay reduces actual misreporting when misreporting leads to more donations for the charity (Experiment 3). These results are consistent with our theory suggesting that, relative to fixed pay, performance-based pay imposes additional costs on misreporting employees’ self-concepts of benevolence and honesty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-336
Number of pages20
JournalAccounting Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


  • Framed field experiment
  • Misreporting
  • Not-for-profit organizations
  • Performance-based pay
  • Social-mission organizations
  • Socially oriented misreporting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


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