Why We Think it’s Okay to Cheat and Steal (Sometimes)


Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). In this presentation at the February 2009 TED Talks he summarizes some of his studies on cheating. It sounds like he has conducted some fascinating research on cheating. I think it provides some very useful insight for compliance officers. It may help you think about what factors exist in your workplace that may encourage bad behavior or may discourage bad behavior.

In the first four minutes Ariely discusses some of his research on pain. But then he moves into his studies on cheating. This video is worth watching.

Ariely concluded was that people have a “personal fudge factor” that allows them to gain the benefits of low-level cheating without damaging the view of themselves.

Ariely also found that paying people in tokens that they could exchange for cash doubled the amount of cheating compared to paying people directly in cash. The example for your office is that people are much more likely to take home a pack of pens than a dollar bill sitting on the shelf in the supply closet.

Ariely also found that when people saw an outsider cheating, cheating among the group went down, but when a colleague cheated, cheating among the group went up. In one experiment, he planted an actor as cheater wearing a college sweatshirt. The actor/cheater stood up only a few minutes after the test started, said he was done, collected the cash and left. There was much less cheating when the actor/cheater wore a sweatshirt from another school. Cheating increased when the actor/cheater wore a sweatshirt from the same school as the the rest of those participating in the experiment. This seems to show that there is big influence by peers on cheating behavior.


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