Lies, Cheating, and Creativity: Q&A with Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely


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"Imagine you have some kind of voice within you asking, 'Am I behaving morally or not?'" says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of the book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. "That voice sometimes is asleep."

Reason TV's Naomi Brockwell talked to Ariely at Tribeca Film Festival's Games For Change conference, where Ariely and his team set up a "Truth Box," a sort of confessional where participants could record themselves talking about a meaningful lie they'd told in their lives.

"Having to face some of your own past and some of the lies you've told… is actually a very interesting process for us as researchers and, I think, also very cleansing for the people who are participating in it," says Ariely.

Ariely studies economics by running behavioral studies in a lab setting and says he's discovered that people are less likely to lie when presented with a "moral reminder" of some sort. This can be as simple as something like a disclaimer urging participants not to lie. But he's also demonstrated that urging participants swear on the Bible or recall the Ten Commandments before running an experiment resulted in less cheating overall.

An individual's penchat for cheating, Ariely says, is determined by the balance between two conflicting desires. Most people want to gain the edge that cheating or lying might give them but also don't want to think of themselves as immoral. Ariely has uncovered through experimentation that creative people tend to cheat more on average.

"Imagine it's all about rationalization. You want to look at yourself in the mirror and feel good about it. You also want to benefit from cheating. It's all about telling stories. If you're creative, you can tell better stories, which means you can cheat a little bit more and still feel good about yourself," says Ariely.

Watch the video above for a deeper discussion about cheating, lying, and what to do about it. Approximately 7 minutes. Scroll down for downloadable versions, and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.

Shot and Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Interview by Naomi Brockwell. Music by Podington Bear.