The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves
He also defines the paradoxical nature of dishonesty. For instance: If a refrigerator in a college dormitory contains cans of Coca-Cola and dollar bills, which will disappear faster? And they are often thirsty. Ariely begins each part of this book with a clear point to make, sometimes using an anecdote about his own life. A number of these stories are old: one involves his youthful travels on a slightly forged Eurail pass, at a time when a suspicious train conductor could be placated with a tape of the Doors.
It cannot have escaped the notice of Mr.
‘The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty’ by Dan Ariely
Ariely or anyone in publishing that readers love the fast, blinky reasoning behind such books. And Mr. Ariely is an acknowledged leader in the field; he is often cited as an authority by other authors who overmine the same subject matter. It helps that this new book has a disarming personal touch, as when Mr. Ariely refers as he has previously to his painful experiences as a burn victim to prove a point: that dishonesty can be a good thing.
He gratefully remembers being told during his long hospital stay that he would someday be all right, even when the medical evidence was less reassuring. But most of this book is about the downside of cheating and lying. In offering practical applications from his insights Mr. If you are a particularly pessimistic person, you may think that people are fundamentally self-interested, and will engage in dishonest and corrupt behaviour so long as the potential benefits of this behaviour outweigh the possibility of being caught multiplied by the punishment involved known as the Simple Model of Rational Crime or SMORC.
On the other hand, if you are a particularly optimistic person, you may think that the lying and cheating that we see in our society is largely the result of a few bad apples in the bunch. Given that the way we attempt to curb cheating and corruption depends largely on which view we think is correct, we would do well if we could come up with a proper understanding of these tendencies, and under what circumstances they are either heightened or diminished.
Over the past several years, the behavioral economist Dan Ariely, together with a few colleagues, has attempted to do just this—by way of bringing dishonesty into the science lab. In order to get at the truth, Ariely invited subjects into his lab and gave them tasks with monetary rewards, where cheating was a very real and clear possibility.
As you can tell from the title of the book, Ariely found that cheating was not confined to a few bad apples, but was in fact very widespread. On the bright side, though, Ariely also found that the vast majority of his subjects did not cheat nearly as much as they could have, but instead confined themselves to just a little bit of cheating. Given his findings, Ariely concludes that most of us are torn between two conflicting impulses. On the one hand is the desire to get ahead by way of dishonesty, and on the other hand is the desire to nevertheless think of ourselves as genuinely honest and good people.
Getting the best of the both worlds can be tricky, but we manage to do so by way of resorting to our trusty capacities of rationalization and self-deception. Of course, different people show different powers of rationalization and self-deception, and also different circumstances can alter the terms of the negotiation significantly for each of us, thus leading to more or less cheating.
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For instance, Ariely found that those who are especially creative are particularly good at rationalization and self-deception, and therefore tend to cheat more so than others in fact, Ariely found that even priming normal subjects with words related to creativity can increase their cheating behaviour.
In addition, he also found that several factors influence the amount that people cheat in general. While these findings are interesting in their own right, Ariely insists that they also have practical value, as he uses his findings to chart out suggestions with regards to how we can minimize cheating and corruption in our own lives, as well as in society at large.
In the story, the shepherd Gyges finds a ring that is capable of making the wearer invisible. Immediately recognizing the potential of the ring, Gyges slips it on and heads to court where he seduces the queen and convinces her to help him kill the king, and thereafter takes over the kingdom loc. Put yourself in Gyges shoes for a moment. If you were given the opportunity to take whatever you wanted unjustly but with complete impunity, would you do it?
In other words, is the fear of being caught and punished the only thing that keeps you from being dishonest and unjust? Now consider the population in general. What percentage of the population do you think would take the opportunity to behave unjustly if they knew that they could not be caught and punished? The question as to whether the SMORC is accurate is interesting in its own right, but it also has important repercussions for public policy.
If, however, the SMORC is invalid, and there are considerations other than just the 3 mentioned therein, then it is important to identify what they are, in order that they may be accommodated in our efforts to curb crime. In order to help shed some light on the matter of dishonesty and cheating, Ariely and his colleagues Nina Mazar and On Amir decided to set up a little experiment loc. The team invited subjects into the lab and had them perform a set of 20 arithmetic problems with a 5-minute time-limit and a monetary reward of 50 cents for each correct answer loc.
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The arithmetic problems called matrices were such that the subjects were presented with 12 numbers in a 4 X 3 grid where they had to identify the 2 numbers that, when added, equal 10 loc. Below is an example of such a problem from loc. How fast can you find the 2 numbers that add up to 10? Again, the subjects were presented with 20 such matrices and had 5 minutes to answer as many of them as they could, with a reward of 50 cents per correct answer. In the control group, the subjects were asked to bring their answer sheets up to a verifier once the 5 minutes were up, and the verifier would count their correct answers and give them their cash reward loc.
In the experimental group, on the other hand, the subjects were asked to tally up their correct answers themselves when the 5 minutes were up, then proceed to the paper shredder at the back of the room and shred their answer sheets, then come back up to the front and inform the verifier of how many correct answers they scored and pick up their cash reward loc.
Now, you may have noticed that it would be very simple for the experimental group subjects to cheat and earn a little extra money the easy way and that this certainly would have dawned on them. Of course, since the answer sheets of the experimental group subjects would be shredded there would be no direct evidence of whether they had cheated and by how much. So Ariely and his team did the next best thing: they compared the number of correct answers of the control group subjects where cheating was impossible with the number of correct answers claimed by the shredder subjects where cheating was very possible loc.
When it came to the control group, the experimenters found that these subjects solved an average of 4 problems.
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Now, before turning our attention to the shredder group, let me ask you this: If you were in the shredder group, how many matrices would you claim to have answered correctly? Now let me ask you this: what do you think actually happened in the shredder group? If you really believe in the SMORC model you would have to say that you would claim to have solved all 20 matrices.
So, what did the experimenters find? As you may have expected, the experimenters did find that some cheating had gone on in the shredder group. Specifically, the experimenters found that the shredder subjects claimed an average of 6 matrices loc. But wait, it is still worthwhile to know just how these numbers break down, for there are two very distinct possibilities here: either most shredder subjects cheated a little, or a few bad apples cheated a lot and skewed the average.
What do you think? So it appears as though the SMORC model is correct in holding that people will generally cheat when given the opportunity, but wrong in maintaining that they will cheat as much as they can. Wait, though: is it possible that the shredder subjects thought that there was still some chance that they might have been caught, and hence restrained themselves on this account? In order to test this possibility, Ariely and his team decided to experiment with several different scenarios wherein cheating was made even easier, and the possibility of being caught even more remote.
What if we up the ante a bit, though? The SMORC not only maintains that people should cheat more as the possibility of being caught goes down, but that they should cheat more as the potential winnings are increased. So Ariely and his team decided to test this out. Rather than offering their shredder subjects 50 cents per correct answer, they decided to vary the amount that the subjects were paid, to see what effect this had on their cheating behavior.
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Is it more than what you claimed when you were receiving only 50 cents per correct answer? What do you think actually happened with the experimental group? Indeed, in a side experiment, Ariely and his team asked subjects what they thought would happen when the stakes were raised. Lo and behold, though, this is not what happened. In order to test the conscience theory, Ariely and his team headed back into the lab. They confronted their subjects with the matrix task in the shredder condition once again, but this time the experimenters wanted to see what the effect would be of presenting their subjects with some moral reminders before they began the task.
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So, for instance, in one experiment both the control group and the experimental group were given the opportunity to cheat by way of shredding their answer sheets, but while the control group were asked to recall ten books that they had read in high school before they began the matrix task, the experimental group were asked to recall the Ten Commandments. Would the moral reminder of the Ten Commandments reduce the amount of cheating behavior in the experimental group?
On the other hand, in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever. Now, lest you think the fear of god contaminated the results of the experiment, the scientists followed this up with a similar experiment wherein they asked a group of self-professed atheists to swear on the bible before embarking on the matrix task in the shredder condition.
In other words, the moral reminder once again reduced the cheating to naught. Still though, even this experiment is tinged with a religious flavor, and the experimenters wanted to see if they could remove this element from the equation entirely, so they ran yet another experiment. And what did the experimenters find? So, moral reminders do have an effect on decreasing dishonest behavior. And this would suggest that our conscience does indeed have a part to play in explaining why we do not cheat as much we could in those circumstances where we are given the opportunity to do so.
But this raises a question: if we all have a conscience, and it acts to muffle our dishonest behavior, why does it need a reminder to kick in fully? For Ariely, the reason why comes down to this: we humans are equipped with two conflicting desires. On one hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. We want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel good about ourselves psychologists call this ego motivation. Now, as you can tell, these two motivations are in direct conflict with one another.
So, how do we get the best of both worlds? Ariely explores how unethical behavior works in the personal, professional, and political worlds, and how it affects all of us, even as we think of ourselves as having high moral standards. But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. With compelling personal and academic findings, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others. Five stars means everyone should read it. Two happy evenings in a quiet room should do it - but it'll probably take longer because you'll keep interrupting yourself to share bits with family or This book is a psychological and sociological investigation into lying, with the emphasis on the ways in which all humans more or less lie and cheat throughout their whole lives.