Dec 13

“The Honest Truth About Dishonesty”: Dan Ariely

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.

Jul 17

“Kidding Ourselves” By Joseph T. Hallinan: On Self-Deception

Kidding Ourselves: The Hidden Power of Self-Deception is the newest book by Joseph T. Hallinan, author also of Why We Make Mistakes (2009).

From the publisher: “To one degree or another, we all misjudge reality. Our perception—of ourselves and the world around us—is much more malleable than we realize. This self-deception influences every major aspect of our personal and social life, including relationships, sex, politics, careers, and health.”

Hallinan tells Nicole Frehsee,, how self-deception “gives us the illusion of control” and why this is so important: “Research suggests that a feeling of control is essential to well-being. When you feel powerless, stress hormones can flood your system, and over time, they may wear your body out. One study found that workers who had little say over their schedules died earlier than people who could, for example, decide when to eat lunch. If you can make your situation more tolerable—by, say, telling yourself that your assigned lunchtime is when you’d eat anyway—your health will likely be better for it.”

Other examples of our ability to get a boost from self-deception:

  • The placebo effect—certain medications work better, or at all, because of our belief that they will.
  • Believing terrible circumstances will eventually improve helps survival.
  • Believing a thing like a golf ball is “lucky” improves your ability.

And, some ways self-deception isn’t so helpful:

    • As told to Frehsee: “Ever heard the phrase ‘drunk with power’? Research suggests that feelings of power can suppress the parts of the brain that govern inhibition, with an effect similar to that of alcohol. This is why we see influential people do incredibly stupid things.”
    • From Greyman’s review: “…(U)nderestimating probable risk (while it might enhance your mental and physical health, the optimism bias can also lead you to engage in unhealthy behavior, like smoking).”

Publishers Weekly, reviewing Kidding Ourselves: “While the studies he presents will entertain any reader, such as why some people really do die of a broken heart or why your boss really is just a jerk, few really astonish. Hallinan’s attempts to legitimize his anecdotes through research and experiment fall flat and often amount to obvious explanations. Nevertheless, it’s accessible pop science that provides a good laugh and some great dinner conversation.”