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Honoursmodule: The Science of Honesty

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Margarita Leib

Entry requirements 

For 2nd or 3rd year honours students only. 

Recommended prior knowledge

No prior knowledge is required. The course is taught in English and the assignments are in English.

Learning Objectives

At the end of the course the student can:

  • Explain key theoretical approaches to studying honesty
  • Describe the main tools and methods used to experimentally study (dis)honest behavior
  • Map the main forces and factors affecting honest behavior
  • Collaborate on a group project, analyzing a real world ethical scandals by applying the main empirical findings on what drives people’s (dis)honesty
  • Independently search literature on factors affecting honesty and potential interventions to increase it, in order to apply to a real-world ethical scandal
  • Present their analysis in an oral presentation
  • Independently search and apply information about how insights from behavioral ethics research can be or are implemented in policy making.
  • Produce a written report discussing how behavioral ethics can or is shaping policy.


Moral behavior, and honesty in particular, is a big, important part of daily life, and has serious societal and financial consequences. As such the topic is studied by many philosophers, psychologists, and economists. In many situations, people’s honest behavior is challenged and in order to secure financial profits, help others, or belong to a group, people need to break the rules and lie. In this course we will discuss how people handle such situations and how they balance being honest and other competing motivations. In the first part of the course we will cover how studies employing the behavioral ethics approach study such situations and discuss the main factors affecting people’s honesty. We will further cover potential promising interventions that can increase honest behavior. Lastly, we will talk about two big, open questions about honesty and human nature: is honesty intuitive? And how will honesty and human morality will be shaped by advancing technologies?

Class contents

  • Lectures
  • Presentations/symposium
  • Selfstudy
  • Work independently on project / thesis
  • Guidance/feedback moments


The assessment will be composed by a group assignment (50%) and an individual assignment (50%). To pass the course, students must achieve minimally a 5.5 for both the group assignment and the individual assignment

A group assignment: In groups of 2-3, students will (1) choose a real-life ethical scandal that was covered in the news, (2) analyze the factors affecting people’s behavior using literature provided in class and additional literature they independently search. The students will further (3) suggest an intervention, tackling one of the main factors they identified. For this task, students will have two group meetings with the lecturer for feedback. Before each meeting, the students will send a form to the lecturer (see deadlines and information below). Each form will account for 5% of the grade (in total 10% of the grade). In the last lecture, the students will present their analysis of the case. The overall analysis, presentation, and implementation of feedback throughout the course will account for 40% of the final grade.

An individual task: The individual assignment will address the question: how behavioral insights gained in experiments can be or are applied in practice?. Students will choose one of the following tasks, and write a maximum 4 page essay on it (standard font: Calibri, Times New Roman, Ariel; size 12; 1.5 spacing; normal margins: 2.54 cm all around).

  1. Independently research how findings and insights from behavioral ethics research shaped policy making. Please provide specific examples of policies that were implemented and the research that contributed to these policies.


  1. Imagine you are a policy maker. Building on one of the topics discusses in class, how would you implement the findings discussed in class? Please elaborate on the research you are building on, the moral issue you are aiming to tackle, and clarify what are the specific, evidence-based measure you would recommend and implement.

Min/max participants



Check Datanose for the exact information.

Study material

Throughout the course students will read papers related to the topics discussed in class. The list of papers will be available on CANVAS.


Registration is possible for students participating in an Honours programme via an online registration form which will be made available on December 1, 10 am till December 5, 11 pm on this website. 

Placement will be at random and within two weeks students will hear whether they are placed for a course. 

There is NO guarantee for placement if you register after December 5, so make sure you register on time! 

For questions about registration please email to: Honours-iis@uva.nl 


The course will be in English.


Facts & Figures
Mode Honours programme
Credits 6 ECTS,
Language of instruction English
Starts in February