Dec 13

Dishonesty: Dan Ariely’s “Honest Truth”

Acts of honesty are incredibly important for our sense of social morality. And although they are unlikely to make the same sensational news, if we understand social contagion, we must also recognize the importance of publicly promoting outstanding moral acts. Dan Ariely, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

The rampant rise of dishonesty and deceit, starting at an individual level and spreading societally, has been wholly disheartening.

Below are additional quotes from researcher Dan Ariely‘s 2012 The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. All of us can learn to become more truth-seeking in our daily lives. It will make a difference.

We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.

Put simply, the link between creativity and dishonesty seems related to the ability to tell ourselves stories about how we are doing the right thing, even when we are not. The more creative we are, the more we are able to come up with good stories that help us justify our selfish interests.

I suspect that self-deception is similar to its cousins, overconfidence and optimism, and as with these other biases, it has both benefits and disadvantages. On the positive side, an unjustifiably elevated belief in ourselves can increase our general well-being by helping us cope with stress; it can increase our persistence while doing difficult or tedious tasks; and it can get us to try new and different experiences. We persist in deceiving ourselves in part to maintain a positive self-image. We gloss over our failures, highlight our successes (even when they’re not entirely our own), and love to blame other people and outside circumstances when our failures are undeniable….On the negative side, to the extent that an overly optimistic view of ourselves can form the basis of our actions, we may wrongly assume that things will turn out for the best and as a consequence not actively make the best decisions. Self-deception can also cause us to “enhance” our life stories with, say, a degree from a prestigious university, which can lead us to suffer a great deal when the truth is ultimately revealed. And, of course, there is the general cost of deception. When we and those around us are dishonest, we start suspecting everyone, and without trust our lives become more difficult in almost every way.

Eight-year-old Jimmy comes home from school with a note from his teacher that says, “Jimmy stole a pencil from the student sitting next to him.” Jimmy’s father is furious. He goes to great lengths to lecture Jimmy and let him know how upset and disappointed he is, and he grounds the boy for two weeks. “And just wait until your mother comes home!” he tells the boy ominously. Finally he concludes, “Anyway, Jimmy, if you needed a pencil, why didn’t you just say something? Why didn’t you simply ask? You know very well that I can bring you dozens of pencils from work.

The first dishonest act is the most important one to prevent.

Feb 05

Who Lies and Why? Take Richard Wiseman’s Quick Test

Who lies and why? The first part of the answer is easy. Probably everyone lies at some point. Psychologist Robert FeldmanLying is a natural part of human interaction. 

The second? Nadia-Elysse Harris at Medical Daily quotes psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman as stating that “(s)ome people lie to feel better about themselves, others do it to cope with harsh realities. And most of the time, people lie to protect themselves from the actions and opinions of other people.”

Furthermore, most people get it by the age of three—if you lie, you might avoid parental disapproval. Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today, adds that this kiddie lying gets reinforced throughout the rest of one’s school years. “Desperate due to procrastination, heavy course loads, the need to work, students make a tiny foray into the world of the excuse-maker and liar. They aren’t called on their ‘family emergency’ by their instructor, so the next time they become more bold. Getting away with the excuse or lie strengthens their inclination to lie the next time.”

According to Whitbourne, other reasons lying continues involve memory distortions (a lie can become part of one’s memory), the use of defense mechanisms that protect a positive sense of identity, and use of biases that are self-serving (we make excuses for our own behavior but not when others do the same thing). See her article for further explanation.

Who lies? Do you? Experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman has devised a 5-second test to determine if you lie. Accurate? I have no idea—but I did like my own results.

Want to see this in writing? Wiseman excerpted some of his 2007 book Quirkology in The Guardian. In it he explains his concept of “self-monitoring“: High self-monitors are those of us who draw the Q so that it can be viewed by someone facing us. Low self-monitors are those of us whose Q can be read by ourselves.

High self-monitors tend to be concerned with how other people see them. They are happy being the centre of attention, can easily adapt their behaviour to suit the situation in which they find themselves, and are skilled at manipulating the way in which others see them. As a result, they tend to be good at lying. In contrast, low self-monitors come across as being the ‘same person’ in different situations. Their behaviour is guided more by their inner feelings and values, and they are less aware of their impact on those around them. They also tend to lie less in life, and so not be so skilled at deceit.

What about our ability to suss out others’ lies—the art of lie detection? Most of us aren’t so good at it, according to his research and that of others. “Liars are just as likely as truth-tellers to look you in the eye, they don’t move their hands around nervously and they don’t shift about in their seats (if anything, they are a little more static than truth-tellers). People fail to detect lies because they are basing their opinions on behaviours that are not actually associated with deception.”

A couple signals to look for, though:

  • Liars tend to say less and provide fewer details than truth-tellers.
  • Liars often try psychologically to distance themselves from their falsehoods, and so tend to include fewer references to themselves in their stories.

Are you as tempted as I am to echo one of the various sources (Metro) who’ve chosen to circulate the 5-second test seen above? “Of course, Richard Wiseman could just be lying about the whole thing…”