Exploring The Psychology Of Cheating: A Deep Dive Into Our Dishonest Behavior
The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely takes a look at the psychology behind why we may be tempted to cheat—even when we’d like to think of ourselves as “good people”.
Ariely uses experiments to explore the different forces that impact how likely one is to cheat, such as the effects of temptation, moral sense, and fatigue.
He shows that cheating behavior spreads much like an infection, with people tending to become more dishonest after committing even a small offense.
Furthermore, he reveals that cheaters tend to rationalize their decisions in order to justify any wrongdoings.
This book provides insight on how understanding the psychology of dishonesty can help us control it in ourselves and in others.
For instance, if people are reminded of the Ten Commandments before performing tasks where cheating might occur, it is less likely for them to do so.
Wearing clothing from real or fake designer brands has been found to affect overall morality as well.
Finally, if someone commits a dishonest act they may be further encouraged towards repeat offenses; luckily recognizing this pattern can offer key knowledge on controlling one’s own impulses.
It Takes More Than Just A Few Bad Apples To Cause Cheating On A Global Scale
It’s no surprise that there is an abundance of dishonest behavior in our society today.
Whether it’s individuals taking a few extra bucks from the company cash box or corporations cooking up the books and turning a blind eye to deceptive practices, the prevalence of lying and cheating can be seen everywhere.
In just one example, Enron was found to be hiding millions of dollars in revenue with deceptive accounting practices while its directors and consultants were aware but turned a blind eye.
Eventually, when the truth came out, the firm collapsed along with reputations and countless investors’ hard-earned money.
The same pattern appears on a smaller scale as well.
Take for instance, an arts center gift shop where each year around $150,000 would go missing without any obvious culprit– but when the organization implemented a recording system of merchandise prices and sales records, the thefts all but ceased.
This suggests that it was not just one thief but actually many people who were stealing small amounts here and there repeatedly.
Clearly, dishonest acts happen on both large and small scales – in businesses, between individuals and even ourselves – demonstrating that there no shortage of lying, cheating or corruption in our world today.
People Often Cheat Despite Knowing The Consequences, Demonstrating That Rational Decision-Making Is Not Necessarily The Basis For Such Behaviour
Cheating is not based solely on rational thinking, contrary to popular belief.
If a person was making a purely logical decision about whether or not to cheat then the chances of cheating should increase in proportion with the potential gain.
This was demonstrated by an experiment conducted by author Dan Ariely, who gave participants the task of solving mathematical problems for financial rewards.
In the first group, with answers checked, participants solved an average of four out of twenty problems correctly.
In the second group however, where answers were not checked, results showed that on average 6 problems had been solved – indicating that people had cheated.
Surprisingly though, when offered up to $10 for each correctly solved problem this didn’t influence how much people cheated; meaning that in this case reason had little bearing on whether someone chose to be honest or dishonest.
Further research by Ariely shows that it’s not even always the fear of being caught which dissuades people from wrong-doing but rather situational factors and individual morals influencing our moral decisions.
In a variation on his initial experiment he tested three different groups: those who could shred half; all -or their answer sheets and those who paid themselves from a big bowl of cash before handing them in show none of these influenced levels of cheating significantly.
It appears that rather than basing our decisions to cheat exclusively on sound reasoning we consider much more intricate shades of individual values when making ethical choices which could benefit us financially seen here with Dan Ariely’s research into dishonesty.
How We Rationalize Our Way Out Of Ethical Decisions — Using Self-Deception To Manage Impulses To Cheat
In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, it’s clear that while people may have the urge or opportunity to cheat and get ahead, their own sense of morality is often what stops them from doing so.
Even if people are tempted to cheat, there is something inherent in them that prevents them from going through with it.
This can be seen in a scenario described by the author involving an accomplished business consultant who was actually a comedian in disguise.
Despite the sound advice from this “consultant” to cheat, the students couldn’t help feeling disturbed by the idea – even though they found it rational and tempting.
This highlights how our morality comes into play when we’re faced with situations like this.
The author also conducted an experiment which illustrated that when people are reminded of ethical standards before being tempted to cheat, their capacity to do so is further lessened.
This group was asked to recall the Ten Commandments before taking a math test and no cheating occurred as a result.
It’s evident then that our own morality is linked to how much cheating we’re comfortable with.
That is not necessarily dependent on whether or not we’re given the opportunity – but instead depends on whether or not we make an effort not to cross certain boundaries and behave ethically instead.
We’Re All Creative Cheaters: How We Justify Our Dishonest Behavior
When it comes to cheating, our minds have an interesting way of rationalizing and fooling ourselves into believing that our dishonesty is justified.
This was demonstrated in a math test experiment, where participants were able to improve their results by replacing wrong answers with correct ones.
When asked how they would fare on the same problems if they weren’t able to check their results, they predicted that their mathematical ability stayed the same.
In other words, they had deceived themselves into believing that the ability displayed when cheating was really just their true ability.
Another form of self-deception is evident when we create a larger psychological “distance” between ourselves and dishonest actions that we take.
For example, many of us know stealing money is wrong; however, stealing products purchased with money may come across as being less problematic because there’s a greater psychological distance between ourselves and the act itself.
This phenomenon was further put to the test in an experiment conducted by the author who placed a six-pack of Coke and several $1 bills in two separate refrigerators in a student house; while no one touched the money, every can of Coke had been stolen because there was sufficient distance between them and their dishonest act.
These examples demonstrate how cheating often results from a process of rationalization and self-deception which allows us to excuse our own dishonest behavior based on external factors as well as our inner need for success over morality – what the authors terms “cognitive flexibility.”
Cognitive Strain Makes Us More Prone To Temptation And Cheating
The book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty demonstrates that exhaustion can make us more prone to lie and cheat.
One example of this is the experiment comparing people who memorized a two-digit number versus a seven-digit number.
Those with higher cognitive strain, in this case, those who had to remember the seven-digit number, more frequently chose chocolate cake when asked to eat something healthy; meanwhile, another experiment further demonstrated how cognitive strain increases the likelihood of dishonesty.
Participants were asked to solve some math problems then shred their worksheets before reporting the results; both groups did cheat but participants who had been given a difficult writing task cheated three times as much as those with an easier one.
It’s clear that exhaustion causes our brains to become less capable of resisting temptation and controlling our behavior, making us easier prey for dishonesty.
How Wearing Fake Designer Clothing Can Affect Your Moral Judgment
It may come as a surprise to many, but the simple act of wearing fake designer clothes can make us more likely to cheat and distrust others.
The evidence from research experiments is clear- when participants are told that they are either wearing authentic or counterfeit designer sunglasses, there is a huge difference in how willing they are to cheat on a math test afterwards.
Specifically, those who believed their glasses to be real only cheated 30% of the time, compared to 74% for those who knew theirs were fakes.
Furthermore, people who knew they were wearing counterfeit glasses also seemed more likely to show less trust in others; when asked to rate the morality of other people after wearing fake sunglasses, they judged their acquaintances as more likely to behave dishonestly than those who had either real sunglasses or no information.
While it’s certainly possible that some people don’t realize the negative effect that dishonesty can have on their own behaviour and attitudes towards others, hopefully this will serve as a reminder of why it’s important to think twice before buying counterfeit items.
Social Contagion: How Cheating Behavior Can Spread Among Individuals
The conclusion of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty is clear: cheating is more likely to occur when it is seen as socially acceptable.
To demonstrate this, the book outlines several experiments which focus on social influence and cheating behavior.
One example involves a group of participants in a math test, with one person standing up and claiming to have solved all the answers correctly.
Even though it’s obviously cheating, the supposed cheater was paid in full in front of everyone – thus setting an example that cheating is socially accepted.
And as a result, other participants also started saying they got more correct answers than actually did, signifying that their tendency for dishonest behavior went up significantly due to social influence.
Another situation further demonstrates this point – this time involving pairs collaborating on a test before discussing the results with their partner.
When there was only observation taking place between them, cheating didn’t occur.
But by giving participants the freedom to talk, they were able to take advantage of mutual benefits through dishonesty – which led to more dishonest behavior amongst individuals in these groups..
At its core, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty shows us that when dishonesty appears socially acceptable or beneficial, we’re much more likely to cheat accordingly.
How To Limit Dishonest Behavior
When trying to curb any dishonest behavior, it is important to understand why people might act that way in the first place.
A key aspect of this is understanding the psychology of cheating, why people might cheat and how they rationalize dishonesty.
We can use this knowledge to limit unethical acts by adjusting incentives and motivations.
For example, a woman wanted to reduce her maid’s temptation to steal food from the freezer so she employed some tactics to do so – she introduced a lock on the freezer and told the maid that only she and herself should be keyholders, giving her a rise as an added responsibility.
This was successful because it addressed three factors that often trigger dishonesty – reducing potential temptation, making the act harder to justify, and establishing an honest social norm in her household.
Similarly, conflicts of interest which produce temptations can also be reduced or removed altogether in order to reduce cheating; for instance doctors should not receive bonuses from pharmaceutical companies when they prescribe their drugs as this incentivizes them to do something contrary to their agreed role and causes a temptation towards behaving unethically.
It is clear then that we can control cheating only by understanding exactly why people behave dishonestly.
By addressing their various motivations for acting dishonestly, including providing incentives and changing social norms, we have the power to decrease unethical behavior within society.
The final summary of The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty is that, although cheating is a widespread phenomenon, it isn’t always driven by rational desires – often times it is irrational.
That being said, in order to control dishonest behavior in ourselves and others, we must take the time to analyze our motivations for lying and what may trigger us to do so.
We should also be mindful not to let ourselves become too exhausted or over-tired, as this increases the chances of cheating and lying.
By understanding the psychology behind dishonesty, we can ultimately gain more control over our own decisions and learn more about ourselves and why we do what we do.