Lying and cheating
June 25, 2012 Leave a comment
Really enjoyed this Q&A with Dan Ariely. I think I’m going to have to get his new book. This was my favorite part:
Wired: Princeton University has a very strict honor system. You describe how incoming students attend lectures about honesty, sign a pledge, et cetera. Does all of that work?
Ariely: Yes, but not in the way people think. Here is the issue: What happens when people sign the honor code? You take a test and you sign something at the top that says, I promise not to cheat and not to lie. The standard theory is that this makes it clear that there’s a consequence, because if I get caught I will get expelled and so on, that’s about the cost-benefit analysis.
There’s another account that says it’s not about the cost benefit analysis, it’s about the fact that if you just wrote something down that says you’re going to be honest, you will have a harder time rationalizing, at least for a short time, your own dishonesty. You are more aware, more thoughtful, more careful, and therefore you will be more honest for a short while.
Now what do you think happens if you finish the test and you sign an honor code at the bottom? Nothing. By the time it’s over, people have already finished cheating. So the signature at the bottom does nothing. At the top, the signature does a lot. I think when we say we’ll teach people about the honor code one time, and think it’ll be good for four years, that’s a little too naïve. We really have to remind people over and over.
Ariely gave a talk at NCSU several years ago and I asked him what his research on cheating suggested I should do as a professor. He said have students write an honor pledge in their own words at the beginning of every test. And that’s exactly what I’ve asked of my students ever since. I’ve never been much for catching cheating (and my tests are generally designed to minimize it), but I like to think the social science suggests this is doing some good.