New Research about Self-deception in Organisations

New Research about Self-deception in Organisations

Self-deception in organisations

Self-deception in organisations is probably one of the most serious hidden issue organisations face today. A new study looking at self-deception in organisations has been conducted looking at the effects it can have on productivity has found that there are different levels and types of self- deception.

When people have a firm allegiance and commitment to a sports team, organisation, political party or other entity or identity (veteran, lawyer, white, black, northern, American etc.), it often entails their ignoring or overlooking that organisation’s/ political party’s etc. failings, shortcomings and transgressions. 

Confirmation bias

This level of confirmation bias (the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that affirms one’s beliefs and values) and self-deception appears to be pervasive and widespread. As such, it has come under a lot of scrutiny from researchers. 


Previous studies

Previous studies have found that such self-deception, based on a commitment and allegiance to an organisation or other body, grouping or identity, can take a range of forms and levels of self-deception from:

  1. Self-deception as a foe, where the individual is so detached from reality that they are incapable of objective evaluation of either their own or the organisation’s actions, thinking and behaviours.
  2. Self-deception as a friend, which tends to occur when an individual becomes biased due to the overwhelming level of conflicting information about the organisation or body, coupled with an inability to categorise and analyse the data and make sense of it. This is an adaptive response that helps the individual survive and operate in the face of vast amounts of conflicting information about the organisation.

Layers of self-deception

However, the research has found that self-deception rarely occurs on an individual level and that individual cases of self-deception are embedded in and result from other layers of self-deception:

  1. Individual self-deception
  2. Social self-deception
  3. Collective self-deception

…self-deception rarely occurs on an individual level

Social Self-deception

Social self-deception is based on a series of intentional and unintentional influence strategies used by the organisation and others to develop an internal brand/identity, or set of thinking, about them and their actions by the people within that society or social group.

Collective self-deception

Collective self-deception, on the other hand, occurs when the group of people themselves engage in placing more weight on certain stories, evidence and information and minimising or ignoring others as a cultural artefact. 


The basis of self-deception

The research to date has found that there are a number of causes of self-deception:

Pragmatic cognitive systems

In order to reduce cognitive and emotional overload every time we want to make a decision, we tend to operate off faster heuristic shortcuts in many situations. This is a form of default thinking that requires little effort or cognitive load, as it does not involve evaluating and analysing all the data and dealing with conflicting evidence.  This can also be due to simple laziness.

Biased motives

A number of studies have found that people frequently resort to self-deception in order to prevent facing the fact that their reasoning is biased, self-serving or inconsistent. In effect, in this case self-deception acts as a protection mechanism to prevent the individual from having to suffer discomfort and embarrassment. Actually, this is to protect their own identity, to keep their belief in themselves positive and promote a consistent external identity.

…people frequently resort to self-deception in order to prevent facing the fact that their reasoning is biased

The level of epistemic motivation

In short, this means the level of effort an individual is prepared to put into engaging and processing information and evidence and their beliefs. A number of studies have found that people with high levels of epistemic motivation are intrinsically motivated and interested in questioning sources of information, their own values and beliefs and evidence, whereas people with low levels of epistemic motivation will rarely engage in such activities. This is linked to individuals who overestimate their own capabilities and competencies, in that they are often engaged in a level of self-deception. Additionally, it has been found that people with low levels of epistemic motivation frequently do not have the tools or understanding to engage in deeper levels of analysis and critical thinking.

Self-deception for emotional coping

This means that individuals stay away from engaging in an activity that may be emotionally taxing or cause discomfort or negative outcomes. Self-deception in this case has been found to be a way of reducing emotional discomfort and helping them to cope with their emotions. This has been found to be the case particularly in people with low levels of emotion regulation skills.

System justification

A number of studies have found that many people will engage in self-deception in order to maintain the status quo of a system, party or organisation they are a part of or have a vested interest in. This means that people who have low levels of critical faculty tend to overlook inconsistencies and evidence that calls into question or degrades their view of that entity or organisation. System justification depends on the degree of identification and affiliation the individual feels with the organisation or group.

maladaptive self-deception

A new study

A new study looking at maladaptive self-deception has been published by researchers from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway.


  1. Low levels of self-deception within an organisation correlates with higher levels of positive socialisation, well-being and organisational development.
  2. High levels of self-deception based on an over estimation of knowledge, skills and abilities has a negative correlation with performance and organisational learning. In other words, the more people overestimate their knowledge and skills the worse the organisation tends to perform and the less they tend to learn. 
  3. High levels of self-deception based on exaggerated perceptions of affiliation with an organisation or group(identity) correlate with lower levels of organisational and individual performance, well-being outcomes and attitudinal issues within the organisation.
  4. High levels of self-deception correlate with low levels of change management outcomes.


Kuntz, J., & Dehlin, E. (2019). Friend and foe? Self-deception in organisations. Journal of Management Development, 38(2), 130-140.

See also: The problem with transformational leadership – new research


Disclaimer: This is a research review, expert interpretation and briefing. As such it contains other studies, expert comment and practitioner advice. It is not a copy of the original study – which is referenced. The original study should be consulted and referenced in all cases. This research briefing is for informational and educational purposes only. We do not accept any liability for the use to which this review and briefing is put or for it or the research accuracy, reliability or validity. This briefing as an original work in its own right and is copyright © Oxcognita LLC 2024. Any use made of this briefing is entirely at your own risk.

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page

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