In his new book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves, Dan Ariely (Professor of Behavior Economics at Duke University) sheds insight from over a decade of researching honesty and dishonesty in people.
Ariely concludes from the research that our society is composed of 1% really honest, 1% really dishonest and 98% small-scale dishonest people. This 98% swell of the populace battles two opposite motivations that simultaneously allow us to be dishonest yet prevent us from being extremely dishonest. This dishonesty often manifests itself in small scale cheating whether it be on tax returns, insurance forms, etc.
On the one hand, we want the benefit of “fudging” the numbers or bending the rules. Yet, we want to think of ourselves as virtuous. The benefit aspect tempts us to cheat. The virtue part keeps us from cheating on a large scale.
Take a look at this graphic to see the factors learned by Ariely that contribute to either our honesty or dishonesty.
Since this is a Christian blog, it is worth worth making note of the “moral reminders” which decrease dishonesty. When people were asked to recall The Ten Commandments prior to having a cheating opportunity, everybody stayed honest. While we understand that a spiritual change of heart is the goal rather than behavioral modification, perhaps there is a lesson for those of us who are Christians.
Hiding God’s word in our heart and being led by the Spirit of God are the means to living a holy life.
For more details about this research, check out this article in The Wall Street Journal: Why We Lie.