I recently finished the book,The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves by Dr. Dan Ariely. This book essentially describes the psychology behind why people cheat or fudge the truth and by how far.
Dr. Ariely begins by describing the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC) where the idea is people weigh the costs vs benefits instead of right vs wrong, essentially comparing possible positive and negative outcomes. Some approach dishonesty as three elements: Evaluating the benefits gained from a crime, the probability of getting caught, and expected punishment if caught. This might be true sometimes, but it leads us to incorrect conclusions oftentimes. Dr. Ariely found that dishonesty is most likely not an outcome of cost-benefit analysis.
He describes how the amount of money we might gain and the probability of getting caught influence humans much less than we expect, yet other forces influence humans much more than expected, such as moral reminders, distance from money, conflicts of interest, depletion, counterfeits, reminders of our fabricated achievements, creativity, witnessing others' dishonesty, and caring about others on our team.
Here are some conclusions he describes:
We[ cheat up to] the level that [allows us to retain our self-image] as reasonably honest individuals.
We human beings are ready and willing to steal something that d[oes not explicitly reference monetary value].
Moral reminders make it relatively easy to get people to be more honest - at least for a short while.
When we face serious decisions in which we realize the person giving us advice may be biased, we should spend just a little extra time and energy to seek a second opinion from a party that has no financial stake in the decision at hand.
Each [decision] we make...takes some degree of [effort], and we exhaust our willpower by using it over and over. Our capacity for resisting diminishes.
If you wear down your willpower, you will have considerably more trouble regulating your desires, and that difficulty can wear down your honesty as well.
If someone wears counterfeit products, be careful! Another act of dishonesty may be closer than expected.
Counterfeit products not only tend to make us more dishonest; they cause us to view others as less than honest as well.
We should recognize that the first act of dishonesty might be particularly important in shaping the way a person looks at himself and his actions from that point on - the first dishonest act is the most important one to prevent.
The difference between creative and less creative individuals comes into play mostly when there is ambiguity in the situation at hand and, with it, more room for justification. ... The more creative we are, the more we are able to come up with good stories that help us justify our selfish interests.
Just as creativity enables us to envision novel solutions to tough problems, it can also enable us to develop original paths around rules, all the while allowing us to reinterpret information in a self-serving way.
If the key to our dishonesty is our ability to think of ourselves as honest and moral people while at the same time benefiting from cheating, creativity can help us tell better stories - stories that allow us to be even more dishonest but still think of ourselves as wonderfully honest people.
When we do something questionable, the [act of inviting our friends to join in] can help us justify our own questionable behavior.
In many areas of life, we look to others to learn what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate. Dishonesty may very well be one of the cases where the social norms that define acceptable behavior are not very clear, and the behavior of others can shape our ideas about what's right and wrong.
[Altruistic tendencies] get people to [cheat more] when their team members can benefit from their dishonesty, but direct supervision can reduce dishonesty and even eliminate it altogether.
The amount of cheating seems to be equal in every country.
Dishonesty is a prime example of our irrational tendencies. It's pervasive; we don't instinctively understand how it works its magic on us; and, most important, [we don't see it in ourselves].
Religion has a lot to say about our struggle with a range of human problems, including honesty and morality. ... Know that a person is influenced by his actions, and his heart and all his thoughts always follow the acts he does, whether they are good or bad.
Favors deeply affect our preferences and our loyalties.