Professor Dan Ariely demonstrates how all people have a cheating behavior and how we all try to benefit from dishonesty without damaging the personal image

Dan Ariely, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves/ Adevarul (cinstit) despre necinste: Cum ii mintim pe toti – dar mai ales pe noi insine

Published 2012 by HarperCollins, 286p


Why do we give up diets?

Was the financial crisis the result of a dishonest human behavior?

Can religion be seen as a strong reminder of moral values?

Why do people lie in their résumés or about their diplomas?

How does wearing fake products influence our standards?


Dan Ariely is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and practically his career has been decided after he was severely injured in an explosion. In his attempt to understand human behavior and the mistakes people do repeatedly, he started conducting various researches in this field and then synthetized his findings in non-academic terms so that they could have applicability in everyday life.

The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty is written in a simple, humorous manner yet offering fascinating researched details on human behavior and the nature of dishonesty. Most of our decisions are based on a cost-benefit analysis:

We all seek our own advantage as we make our way through the world. Whether we do this by robbing banks or writing books is inconsequential to our rational calculations and benefits.

Undoubtedly irrationality governs our lives. We want to think of ourselves as moral beings but paradoxically we steal stationary from work, we have no remorse when engaged in digital piracy, we wear fake products to signal our success, we do disguised favours and lie for ourselves or for the benefit of the ones we love. Then we try to motivate all our decisions in a process of rationalization:

How can we secure the benefits of cheating and the same time still view ourselves as honest, wonderful people? This is where our amazing cognitive flexibility comes into play. Thanks to this human skill, as long as we cheat by only a little bit, we can benefit from cheating and still view ourselves as marvelous human beings. This balancing act is the process of rationalization, and it is the basis of what we’ll call the fudge factory theory.

The book is full of examples of how we cheat.

Although golf is considered a sport of high moral standards and thus has no referee and is used as a metaphor for business etiquette, golfers cheat because this is what people do when they are left to score their own performances.

As a university professor, Ariely noticed that the lies about grandmothers students use are true

 grandmothers are ten times more likely to die before a midterm and nineteen times more likely to die before a final exam.

In terms of dishonesty, another example Ariely insisted on is that of disguised favours that sometimes lead to conflicts of interest. Pharma representatives influence doctors’ decisions with psychological tricks – small gifts, free drug samples, treats, free dinners, false friendships. Manipulated, doctors end up compromising their values.

Once we start violating our own standards, we are much more likely to abandon further attempts to control our behavior – and from that point on there is a good chance that we will succumb to the temptation to further misbehave.

There is one more very interesting conclusion of Ariely’s experiments. Analyzing the brain structure, mainly the gray (the neurons) and white matter (the wiring that connects the brain cells), the research revealed that creative people tend to be more dishonest:

We all want explanations for why we behave as we do and for the ways the world around us functions. Even when our feeble explanations have little to do with reality. We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.

Looking for approaches that might reduce dishonesty and inviting readers to reflect upon their own behavior and morality, Ariely is hopeful and lists a few solutions:

  • Pledge
  • Signatures
  • Moral reminders (the Ten Commandments, honour codes)
  • Supervision

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