- Our “fudge factor,” the amount we’ll be dishonest, is made possible by our ability to rationalize our behavior.
- What we choose to be dishonest about varies across cultures (for the French, it may be infidelity, and for Americans it may be our taxes), but we know from controlled experiments that all cultures tested (from Israel to China) cheat the same amount. And it’s consistent within cultures, too: ex-convicts cheat the same amount as the average resident of Durham, North Carolina.
- Cheating is easier when it’s against someone or something we don’t like. Can you remember a time when a cashier accidentally hands out too much change? If they weren't personable during checkout, you're not going to feel as bad about keeping the extra money.
- We’re much more likely to be dishonest if the consequences are less apparent or won’t happen until the distant future. Dr. Ariely’s new book includes stories of small business owners and accountants who commit fraud out of convenience without considering any long-term legal dangers.
- Framing a decision greatly affects our level of dishonesty. For example, in an experiment at UCLA, subjects who recall the Ten Commandments before taking a test were less likely to cheat, even if they identified themselves as staunch atheists.
- Cheating for someone else is easier to rationalize than cheating for our own gain, because it makes us feel less evil if we don't directly benefit from dishonest behavior. In a “pretend you’re the CEO of a large corporation” experiment, people who were informed that their job is to appease the shareholders (an obvious truth) were more likely to say that they’d impose unfriendly fees on customers.
- The less tangible our stealing is, the more we’ll steal. This has huge implications for our new cashless society, and is also a driving force behind illegal music downloads online.
There’s much more in Dan Ariely's new book. Consider buying -- not stealing -- it from your local bookstore.