The psychology behind cheating

Eliza Mills Feb 6, 2015
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The psychology behind cheating

Eliza Mills Feb 6, 2015
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Imagine this: You’re alone at work, and you’re thirsty. You have no money, and you have nothing to drink. You open your office fridge and there you find six cans of Coca-Cola, and six crisp $1 bills. 

Do you take anything? Maybe a soda, or a dollar bill, to buy something for the vending machine? Do you take more than one?

Dan Ariely already has an idea what you’d do. Ariely is a professor at Duke University. He studies cheating behavior and he’s run dozens of experiments on cheating: when people cheat, by how much, and why they do it.

He says that people are more likely to cheat when they’re distanced from the idea of monetary value — you’re more likely to take the soda than the cash, just as you’re more likely to stream a movie illegally online than to walk into a store and steal a DVD, or worse yet, take cash from the register. 

Cheating can be complicated, too, it’s not all black and white. Dishonesty exists on a spectrum, and finding balance, particularly between our social behaviors and our business behaviors, is crucial, according to Ariely.

You can learn more about how and why people cheat by tuning in to the full segment in the audio player above, or, to find out what kind of cheater you are, take our quiz: 

[Quiz by Seth Kelley]

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