Rich and Poor Cheat for Different Reasons

In certain circumstances, it's the poor who are more likely to cheat. The difference is that the rich do wrong to help themselves, while the poor do wrong to help others. In several experiments reported in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology… the studies suggest a straightforward sequence: Money leads to the perception that one is higher in the social hierarchy, which in turn leads to a sense of power, which in turn leads to a greater willingness to cheat for selfish reasons.

People with less money (and therefore less power), however, are more communal. They need to rely on each other to get by, and as a result, research shows, they’re more compassionate and empathically accurate. Breaking rules is always risky, but social cohesion is paramount — so you do what it takes to help those around you.

The researchers think their findings could lead to some easy practical applications. If you’re speaking to higher-class individuals, you might want to appeal to their selfishness and warn that cheating will ultimately backfire. But when talking to those with fewer resources, you might be better off noting that their actions could harm those around them.

Matthew Hutson, New York Magazine

Prone to Cheating

Dan Ariely contends that the vast majority of people are prone to cheating. He also thinks they are more willing to cheat on other people’s behalf than their own. People routinely struggle with two opposing emotions. They view themselves as honourable. But they also want to enjoy the benefits of a little cheating, especially if it reinforces their belief that they are a bit more intelligent or popular than they really are. They reconcile these two emotions by fudging—adding a few points to a self-administered IQ test, for example, or forgetting to put a few coins in an honesty box.

The amount of fudging that goes on depends on the circumstances. People are more likely to lie or cheat if others are lying or cheating, or if a member of another social group (such as a student wearing a sweatshirt from a rival university) visibly flouts the rules. They are more likely to lie and cheat if they are in a foreign country rather than at home. Or if they are using digital rather than real money. And people are more likely to break their own rules if they have spent the day resisting temptation: dieters often slip after a day of self-denial, for example.

What can be done about dishonesty? Harsh punishments are ineffective, since the cheat must first be caught. The trick is to nudge people to police themselves, by making it harder for them to rationalise their sins. For example, Mr Ariely finds that people are less likely to cheat if they read the Ten Commandments before doing a test, or if they have to sign a declaration of honesty before submitting their tax return. Another technique is to encourage customers to police suppliers: eBay, an online marketplace, hugely reduced cheating by getting buyers to rank sellers.

Adrian Wooldridge writing in The Economist

How to Encourage Cheating

People are more likely to cheat on tests if they are a step removed from the cash payoff, according to Predictably Irrational author Dan Ariely. Managers, for instance, padded expenses more often when their assistants were the ones compiling reports instead of themselves. Ariely also found people who knowingly wore fake designer sunglasses were more than twice as likely to cheat later on an unrelated task than those wearing the real thing. His conclusion? A step in the direction of deception makes the next step toward it easier because the way a person defines themselves will shift in the direction of deception.

If these tests reveal how to encourage cheating, then how can we encourage honesty?

Two studies offer a clue to one way. In a math task using tokens as rewards, participants were first told to recall as much of the Ten Commandments as they could, before taking the test. This group didn’t cheat at all on the test. At the same time, without a Ten Commandments refresher did cheat. In another study, an auto insurer found requiring car owners to sign their names at the top of an insurance application led to greater honesty about driving habits, even when it meant higher premiums.

It seems a reminder about ethical behavior influences our immediate choices.

Stephen Goforth

Winners are more likely to Cheat

"When people succeed in competition against others, it seems to compromise their ethics. It makes them more likely to cheat afterwards," (said Amos Schurr, a professor of psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel).

The problem, he says, seems to be a very specific type of success: the kind that involves social comparison, the sort that means doing better than others, instead of just doing well. And he believes it all boils down to a sense of entitlement that beating others in sports, business, politics, or any other form of head-to-head competition seems to foster in victors.

"Dishonesty is a pretty complex phenomenon — there are all sorts of mechanisms behind it," said Schurr. "But people who win competitions feel more entitled, and that feeling of entitlement is what predicts dishonesty."

In other words, when people win against others, they tend to think they're better, or more deserving. And that thinking helps them justify cheating, since, after all, they're the rightful heir to whatever throne is next — "If I'm better than you, I might as well make sure I win, because I deserve to anyway."

Roberto A. Ferdman writing in the Washington Post