Carnegie Mellon University


August 20, 2020

CMU Researcher Among Team Awarded $4.4 Million Grant to Study Honesty

Taya Cohen, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, along with four Wake Forest University professors has been awarded a $4.4 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore scientific and philosophical questions about honesty.

The grant will fund a three-year project launched this week called, the Honesty Project, led by Principal Investigator Christian B. Miller, A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University. Cohen will serve as a science of honesty project leader, along with three psychology professors from Wake Forest University: William Fleeson, Hultquist Family Professor of Psychology; R. Michael Furr, Professor of Psychology and Wright Faculty Fellow, and Eranda Jayawickreme, Associate Professor of Psychology.

Research on Honesty in Difficult Conversations

The Honesty Project is a multifaceted approach to understanding honesty that includes:

  • Research projects by the Wake Forest and CMU team members that use a mix of field studies, surveys, laboratory and online experiments, and coding of qualitative data to study honesty.
  • A funding competition for scholars around the world to conduct research on the science of honesty.
  • A funding competition for philosophy research on honesty.
  • Two research conferences and a summer seminar focused on the philosophy and science of honesty.

Cohen will lead research on honesty in difficult conversations where people need to deliver critical feedback to mentees and teammates. Cohen states, "We often fail to recognize how important honest feedback is to receivers and how much they value it. Instead, we focus on how uncomfortable it might be for us or them in the moment. Through our work on this grant, we aim to uncover barriers to honesty and give people tools for maximizing honesty and kindness in their communication, rather than sacrificing one for the other."

Five Big Questions

The research team hopes to unravel the mysteries of honesty in daily life and inspire much further work on this relatively neglected virtue by focusing on five Big Questions:

  • What is the definition and value of honesty? What are the behavioral and motivational requirements for being honest or exceptionally so?
  • To what extent are people honest? How does this vary by culture?
  • What contextual and internal factors encourage honesty and shape its development in individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions?
  • What are the consequences of honesty and dishonesty for relationships, groups, organizations, and institutions?
  • Under what conditions is dishonesty justified, if any? What factors lead people to be receptive to or offended by honesty?

Taya Cohen is a tenured Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business and is currently serving as President of the International Association for Conflict Management (2020-2022). She conducts research on honesty, moral behavior, negotiation, and conflict, and is known in particular for her research on moral character in the workplace.