Do you think that you are an honest person? Well, if you do, you are probably wrong. The lesson that you will learn from Dan Ariely is that all of us are a little bit dishonest. Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist, and his past books have looked at whether people use rational behavior in their interactions. As I found out, I was “predictably irrational.” After all, I was just as gullible as everyone else. Wave a “free” sign in front of me, and I will be just as likely to wait in a long line to get my free item. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely shows us that people, unless they are monitored by a disinterested third party, are likely to behave just a little bit dishonest. Ariely uses his research to show us how that is the case. In control situations, when people performed a matrix test, finding two numbers in a matrix of nine that add up to 10, most people were able to identify four out of 20 correctly in five minutes. When people could shred their sheet, and just say how many they identified correctly, they would say six. People didn’t lie by a lot, but just a little. We tend to have a view of ourselves as honest people, but if you were in that situation, would you lie about the number you solved?
So why are are dishonest? Part of it is that we can rationalize our behavior. We may take a free candy bar from a vending machine because we think of all the quarters we lost in the machine in the past. We may see other people being dishonest. We may have already depleted our willpower because of other things going on in our life. For example, a person having a hard day at the office may bend on a diet in the evening. Creative people tend to be more dishonest, probably because they are used to making up stories and coming up with scenarios that help them to rationalize. So what can keep us on the straight and narrow? Honor pledges (verbal and in signing our name to an honesty statement), moral reminders (signs), and supervision. If you know that someone is watching you, you will be more likely to be honest. However, if you have a social friendship with the watcher, you both may become dishonest because you both want to altruistically help the other.
Ariely knows how to tell a tale, and his books always get me thinking. I strongly recommend The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. It can help you understand the underpinnings of the recent banking and financial collapse. It might also make you wonder if you really need that new crown that the dentist wants you to get. The most disheartening thing that I found is that as you have a longer relationship with a service provider, you trust that person more. However, that person also starts to feel more comfortable with recommendations that might not have your best interest (health or financial) in mind. I can’t wait to see what Ariely investigates next!