Friday, April 1, 2016

The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

I read this book while queuing up for some limited edition chocolate cheese tarts (I ended up queueing for two and a half hours, so I actually ended without enough to read). I really loved Predictably Irrational, so I had high hopes for this one. Thankfully, it lived up to my expectations.

Like the title says, the book explores the reasons why people are dishonest. Basically, the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC) doesn't work. If it does, we should be seeing a lot more cheating and crime taking place. So, what propels us to cheat? In a series of experiments, Dan Ariely shows that the truth is slightly more complex.

Basically, there are four forces that decrease dishonest: Pledges, Signatures, Moral Reminders and Supervision. Use these and people will reduce the amount of cheating they do (though it might not be completely eliminated, and can probably be cancelled out).

There are two neutral forces: Amount of money to be gained and the probability of being caught. Although you'd think that people would only cheat if it's worth it or if they wouldn't get caught, apparently, this doesn't make much of a difference.

And there's a long, long list of factors that will actually increase dishonesty:

1. If you can rationalise it
2. If there's a conflict of interest (even if you think you're being impartial, the conflict will influence how you behave)
3. How creative you are (more creative people cheat more, apparently)
4. One immoral act (it's like breaking a diet. One small break can lead to binging on junk food)
5. Being tired/having no energy = no energy to resist temptation
6. If someone else will benefit (so we're being... nice?)
7. Watching others behave dishonestly
8. Culture that gives examples of dishonesty

The book is super readable and extremely easy to understand. If Dan Ariely was my econs teacher, and he teaches like the book, I would probably have chosen to major in behavioural economics. But he isn't, so I ended up doing corporate finance + Industry 4.0/Industrial Internet (technically "Economics of the Telecom industry, but somehow my research for the year was this).

I don't actually have much else to say about the book. It was interesting and informative, and I have no regrets reading it. If you're interested in human behaviour, and what affects it, you should definitely give this book a read. Plus his other book - Predictable Irrational; both books are really excellent. Please don't mistake my lack of things to say as lack of enthusiasm.

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