January 31, 2010

Shrinking the fudge factor - when we remind people about morality, they cheat less

Today I gave a speech (a "talk") that touched on several life principles, one of them, morality's influence on decision making.

Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely author of the book "Predictably Irrational", created a fascinating social experiment intended to understand how people handle being tempted with cheating.

He called it, shrinking the fudge factor. In other words how much are we willing to "fudge", or walk the line or cheat a little or a lot.

Dan gave two tasks to a large group of students. He asked half the people to recall either 10 books they read in high school or to recall the 10 commandments and then he tempted them with cheating. Turns out the people who tried to recall the 10 commandments given the opportunity to cheat did not cheat at all. The moment people thought about trying to recall the 10 commandments, they stopped cheating. The 10 commandments is something hard to bring into the educational system so Dan brought an honor code. Again, once signed. No cheating whatsoever.

His biggest conclusion: When we remind people about morality, they cheat less.

To watch Dan's TED talk in its entirety, check out the embedded video below. For more of Dan's thinking, visit his website.

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