Cheap Sunglasses and Compliance

Can cheap sunglasses affect your ethical behavior?

An important part of a compliance program is monitoring and improving the ethical behavior of your workforce. I’m always intrigued by ethics experiments.

Francesca Gino of Chapel Hill, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, and Dan Ariely of Duke tested the effect of wearing knock-off designer sunglasses. They wanted to see if knowing you were wearing knock-offs would affect your behavior.

It did. Those subjects told they were wearing knock-off designer sunglasses cheated more than those who were not told.

The scientists asked two groups of young women to wear sunglasses taken from a box labeled either “authentic” or “counterfeit.” (All the eyewear was authentic.) Then the researchers put the participants in situations in which it was both easy and tempting to cheat.

People still cheat when its easy and tempting. Of those in the “authentic” group, 30% inflated their scores. But in the “counterfeit” group 71% inflated their scores.

They ran a bunch of other tests using the same theory that knowingly wearing knock-off designer sunglasses leads to degraded ethical behavior. It seems to have a very significant impact.

A lesson for compliance professionals: Don’t use knock-off goods in your program.

Dan Ariely talks about the findings in this video:


Image of Knockoff Shades is by sparktography.