Why We Lie - WSJ.com
Nick Sullivan stashed this in Truth
An interesting, and pretty thorough set of experiments on how we all cheat - a little. I particularly enjoyed the signature-at-the-top experiment, where people that were asked to put their signature at the top of an insurance form cheated less than people who put their signature at the bottom; which I take to mean that if you tell people they are accountable *before* their actions, you get more honesty. I'm going to find a way to work that into my life.
I must admit that I had looked at truth in a black or white fashion. Trust is such a critical part of relationships, apparently we all make tradeoffs for an acceptable level of dishonesty.
This is a fascinating area of research.
Matt found this great article: Given time to consider, people become more truthful.
This can help with decision making:
If you want someone to be honest, then, do not press him too hard for an immediate decision.
One study found people lie 2-3 times every 10 minutes. Read more.
"We use lies to grease the wheels of social discourse," says University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman. "It's socially useful to tell lies."
I found these results fascinating:
1. One thing that increased cheating in our experiments was making the prospect of a monetary payoff more "distant," in psychological terms. In one variation of the matrix task, we tempted students to cheat for tokens (which would immediately be traded in for cash). Subjects in this token condition cheated twice as much as those lying directly for money.
2. Another thing that boosted cheating: Having another student in the room who was clearly cheating.
3. Other factors that increased the dishonesty of our test subjects included knowingly wearing knockoff fashions, being drained from the demands of a mentally difficult task and thinking that "teammates" would benefit from one's cheating in a group version of the matrix task. These factors have little to do with cost-benefit analysis and everything to do with the balancing act that we are constantly performing in our heads. If I am already wearing fake Gucci sunglasses, then maybe I am more comfortable pushing some other ethical limits (we call this the "What the hell" effect). If I am mentally depleted from sticking to a tough diet, how can you expect me to be scrupulously honest? (It's a lot of effort!) If it is my teammates who benefit from my fudging the numbers, surely that makes me a virtuous person!
Insightful article, thanks for posting -- "We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools' honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result. We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again This experiment has obvious implications for the real world. While ethics lectures and training seem to have little to no effect on people, reminders of morality—right at the point where people are making a decision—appear to have an outsize effect on behavior."
The one thing that didn't make sense here to me is the generalization to "everyone." The author uses averages to infer that "everyone" cheats a little. To generalize to everyone it ought to be some fraction of people greater than 90% and that cannot be inferred from data on averages.
You're right Sri that there's no evidence these results apply to everyone.
Nonetheless, it's helpful to know these results.
And I do think reminders of morality -- and mortality! -- at the point of decision have an outsize effect on behavior.
Which is fascinating.