Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we’re predictably irrational — and can be influenced in ways we can’t grasp.

 

Published on Apr 26, 2012

Category: Psychology, Weekend

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5 Responses to “Ariely: Our Buggy Moral Code”

  1. sysin3 says:

    Good one, thanks !

  2. Low Budget Dave says:

    Auditors have long known that there are three forces that enable all fraud: Motive, opportunity, and rationalization. All three forces come in various degrees, and can even compete.

    Motive is the most obvious, since most people want money (slightly) more than they want to feel good about themselves.

    Opportunity is what auditors usually hope to control. Because after all, they are auditors and not psychologists.

    Rationalization is the factor that is most often overlooked. Although some criminals are self-rationalizing (“Rich bosses deserve it…”, all the way down to “WMD’s…”), other criminals reflect only the attitude that surrounds them. These are not really criminals, so much as chameleons. When surrounded by dishonesty, they steal. When surrounded by honesty, they do not.

    Think of the number of Wall Street organizations where the culture that trickles down from the top is to treat clients like sheep: Herd them, shear them, eat mutton, and then boil the bones for stock.

    How hard must it be for their employees to rationalize skimming?

  3. Blissex says:

    «These are not really criminals, so much as chameleons. When surrounded by dishonesty, they steal. When surrounded by honesty, they do not.»

    One of the big names in management, IIRC Jack Welch, said that corporate honesty is the same as everything in a corporate environment: it is a game of “follow the leader”. If the leader effectively cheats and steals (and very very few don’t) then that sets the corporate culture, and most people in corporate environments are trained hard to follow the leader.

    Great “wealth creators” like Lay, Fuld, ONeal, Cayne, Keating, Greenberg … have been leading by example.

  4. Blissex says:

    «These are not really criminals, so much as chameleons. When surrounded by dishonesty, they steal. When surrounded by honesty, they do not.»

    BTW this is what a lot of them say too: “I am a good person, a good father than citizen, I just did what everybody else was doing”, whether it is embezzling money or lynching people.

    Real criminals are not just those who are hard wired to commit crimes compulsively in every possible situation, like “middle class” people make-believe; and they usually identify “real criminals” with whoever feels nasty-looking (like being dark skinned or male).

    Real criminals are those who commit crimes, whether it is because they are compulsive or just liked the temptation.

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