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Can You Cheat and Feel Good About Yourself? For Most People, the Answer Is Yes

An expert on motivation and behavior conducted an extensive new study on cheating.

Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Duke University, is a leading expert on human motivation and behavior. In a recent study (animated in the awesome video below, via The RSA), Ariely found that rationalization makes it easier—and more likely—for humans to be dishonest while still considering themselves decent people.


Ariely found that the level of rationalization that humans consciously (or subconsciously) employ has a dramatic effect on how often they’ll cheat—i.e., the more we rationalize, the more we cheat, even on an economic level. Ariely argues that “good people doing good work who cheat a little bit” end up doing more harm than “bigger” cheaters, especially because there are so many of them. Are you one of “them”?

Check it out:

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If humans tend to be more dishonest when they’re rationalizing, then how do you reduce this tendency to rationalize? According to Ariely, religion has already figured it out: Moral incentives and reminders, along with the opportunity to ask for forgiveness, greatly increase a human’s desire to change his or her behavior.

But how do we apply this logic to larger structures, such as banks and corporations? Invite them to mass to confess? Have them over for Yom Kippur to recite the Al Chet? Ariely argues that motivation influences reality. We all have the capacity to be bad under the right circumstances, and especially in banking, “we’ve created the right situations for people to misbehave.” So because of that, we must change the incentive structures.

Or just be a GOOD person, man.

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