The Truth about Lying

Posted on August 25, 2016

Photo: flickr

Before Dan Ariely launches into explaining the science behind dishonesty, he tells an amusing story:

God goes to Sarah and says, "You're going to have a child." Sarah laughs and responds, "How can I have a child when my husband is so old?" God then goes to Abraham and tells him, "You’re going to have a child." Abraham responds, "What did Sarah say?" And God lies: "Sarah wondered how (she can) have a child when she is so old."

The moral of the story: It's okay to lie for peace at home.

"When you think about it, that's what dishonesty is all about," Ariely said in his Fred Kavli Keynote Address at the 2016 APS Annual Convention in Chicago.

"Just to be clear, the prevalent theory of dishonesty from a legal perspective is the idea of cost–benefit analysis," said Ariely. "It says that when people think about being dishonest, they think about 'What can I gain? What can I lose?' and figure out if this is a worthwhile act of dishonesty. If there's a big cost, we're not going to be dishonest.”

The idea of cost-benefit analysis does not describe our personal experiences, though. For instance, the theory behind the death penalty is that people considering whether to murder someone will think ahead and realize that committing that crime could result in a death sentence, so they won’t kill. But this is not how people actually function in the real world.

In one study, Ariely utilized a vending machine. The machine was set up to say that bags of candy cost 75 cents on the outside, but its mechanism on the inside was set to zero cents. So when people put money in the vending machine, they would get extra bags of candy, and all of their money back. A big sign on the vending machine read, "If there’s something wrong with this machine, please call this number"— in this instance, Ariely's cell phone number. Nobody called, but nobody took more than four bags of candy.

"The majority took three or four, but nobody took five because five would be stealing," Ariely said, drawing laughs. "And you think about how people might rationalize this decision: 'This other vending machine took my money and didn't give me candy, and this vending machine must be a close relative of that one.' We're just sorting out the vending karma in the world."

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Category(s):Life Purpose / Meaning / Inner-Guidance, Relationships & Marriage, Trust Issues

Source material from Psychological Science

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