Guess what? Everyone lies. And science just proved it. Researchers are finding that we're not a very honest and virtuous species after all. We all lie a little to maximise our gains. Then there are 'pathological liars' who can't help but lie all the time, mostly because they've been wired that way.
So how did science reach this conclusion. Dan Ariely, a professor of economics at Duke University, wrote a fascinating article for the Wall Street Journal about his experiments that investigate just how widespread cheating is. He cites one particular experiment as an interesting example:
"Much of what we have learned about the causes of dishonesty comes from a simple little experiment that we call the "matrix task," which we have been using in many variations. It has shown rather conclusively that cheating does not correspond to the traditional, rational model of human behavior-that is, the idea that people simply weigh the benefits (say, money) against the costs (the possibility of getting caught and punished) and act accordingly.
"The basic matrix task goes as follows: Test subjects (usually college students) are given a sheet of paper containing a series of 20 different matrices (structured like the example you can see above) and are told to find in each of the matrices two numbers that add up to 10. They have five minutes to solve as many of the matrices as possible, and they get paid based on how many they solve correctly. When we want to make it possible for subjects to cheat on the matrix task, we introduce what we call the "shredder condition." The subjects are told to count their correct answers on their own and then put their work sheets through a paper shredder at the back of the room. They then tell us how many matrices they solved correctly and get paid accordingly.
"What happens when we put people through the control condition and the shredder condition and then compare their scores? In the control condition, it turns out that most people can solve about four matrices in five minutes. But in the shredder condition, something funny happens: Everyone suddenly and miraculously gets a little smarter. Participants in the shredder condition claim to solve an average of six matrices-two more than in the control condition. This overall increase results not from a few individuals who claim to solve a lot more matrices but from lots of people who cheat just by a little."
So will humans ever stop lying? That's what Ariely is currently working on. One of his recent projects involved shifting the signature box on official forms to the top, making that the declaration "I promise that the information I am providing is true." a priority on the form. And so far, the results of this minor tweak have been positive. Looks like there might just be hope for mankind after all.
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