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Concept: Dishonesty


Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. Five studies reveal that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Studies 3a and 3b demonstrate that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, study 4 demonstrates that a possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.

Concepts: English-language films, Demonstration, Cultural studies, Human behavior, Theft, Dishonesty, Intrinsic value


Dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. Anecdotally, digressions from a moral code are often described as a series of small breaches that grow over time. Here we provide empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty and reveal a neural mechanism supporting it. Behaviorally, we show that the extent to which participants engage in self-serving dishonesty increases with repetition. Using functional MRI, we show that signal reduction in the amygdala is sensitive to the history of dishonest behavior, consistent with adaptation. Critically, the extent of reduced amygdala sensitivity to dishonesty on a present decision relative to the previous one predicts the magnitude of escalation of self-serving dishonesty on the next decision. The findings uncover a biological mechanism that supports a ‘slippery slope’: what begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions.

Concepts: Game theory, Psychology, Brain, Critical thinking, Human brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Human behavior, Dishonesty


We propose that dishonest and creative behavior have something in common: They both involve breaking rules. Because of this shared feature, creativity may lead to dishonesty (as shown in prior work), and dishonesty may lead to creativity (the hypothesis we tested in this research). In five experiments, participants had the opportunity to behave dishonestly by overreporting their performance on various tasks. They then completed one or more tasks designed to measure creativity. Those who cheated were subsequently more creative than noncheaters, even when we accounted for individual differences in their creative ability (Experiment 1). Using random assignment, we confirmed that acting dishonestly leads to greater creativity in subsequent tasks (Experiments 2 and 3). The link between dishonesty and creativity is explained by a heightened feeling of being unconstrained by rules, as indicated by both mediation (Experiment 4) and moderation (Experiment 5).

Concepts: Theory, Human behavior, Creativity, Dishonesty


This study examines cultural differences in ordinary dishonesty between Italy and Sweden, two countries with different reputations for trustworthiness and probity. Exploiting a set of cross-cultural tax compliance experiments, we find that the average level of tax evasion (as a measure of ordinary dishonesty) does not differ significantly between Swedes and Italians. However, we also uncover differences in national “styles” of dishonesty. Specifically, while Swedes are more likely to be either completely honest or completely dishonest in their fiscal declarations, Italians are more prone to fudging (i.e., cheating by a small amount). We discuss the implications of these findings for the evolution and enforcement of honesty norms.

Concepts: Experiment, Sweden, Criminal law, Cultural studies, Human behavior, Italy, Police, Dishonesty


Many written forms required by businesses and governments rely on honest reporting. Proof of honest intent is typically provided through signature at the end of, e.g., tax returns or insurance policy forms. Still, people sometimes cheat to advance their financial self-interests-at great costs to society. We test an easy-to-implement method to discourage dishonesty: signing at the beginning rather than at the end of a self-report, thereby reversing the order of the current practice. Using laboratory and field experiments, we find that signing beforerather than afterthe opportunity to cheat makes ethics salient when they are needed most and significantly reduces dishonesty.

Concepts: Economics, English-language films, The Current, Insurance, The Order, Aristotle, Dishonesty, Sally Field


To protect and promote the well-being of others, humans may bend the truth and behave unethically. Here we link such tendencies to oxytocin, a neuropeptide known to promote affiliation and cooperation with others. Using a simple coin-toss prediction task in which participants could dishonestly report their performance levels to benefit their group’s outcome, we tested the prediction that oxytocin increases group-serving dishonesty. A double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment allowing individuals to lie privately and anonymously to benefit themselves and fellow group members showed that healthy males (n = 60) receiving intranasal oxytocin, rather than placebo, lied more to benefit their group, and did so faster, yet did not necessarily do so because they expected reciprocal dishonesty from fellow group members. Treatment effects emerged when lying had financial consequences and money could be gained; when losses were at stake, individuals in placebo and oxytocin conditions lied to similar degrees. In a control condition (n = 60) in which dishonesty only benefited participants themselves, but not fellow group members, oxytocin did not influence lying. Together, these findings fit a functional perspective on morality revealing dishonesty to be plastic and rooted in evolved neurobiological circuitries, and align with work showing that oxytocin shifts the decision-maker’s focus from self to group interests. These findings highlight the role of bonding and cooperation in shaping dishonesty, providing insight into when and why collaboration turns into corruption.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Truth, Placebo, Collaboration, Lie, Dishonesty


Recent empirical evidence shows that working in an unsupervised, isolated situation under competition, can increase dishonest behavior to achieve prestige. However, could working in a common space, in the presence of colleagues affect cheating? Here, we examine how familiar-peer influence, supervision and social incentives affect worker performance and dishonest behavior. First, we show that working in the presence of peers is an effective mechanism to constrain honest/dishonest behavior compared to an isolated work situation (experiment 1). Second, we demonstrate that the mere suspicion of dishonesty from another peer is not enough to affect individual cheating behavior (experiment 2), suggesting that reputation holds great importance in a worker’s self-image acting as a strong social incentives. Third, we show that when the suspicion of dishonesty increases with multiple peers behaving dishonestly, the desire to increase standing is sufficient to nudge individuals' behavior back to cheating at the same levels as isolated situations (experiment 3).

Concepts: Empiricism, Human behavior, Theft, Dishonesty


We propose that positive affect promotes dishonest behavior by providing the cognitive flexibility necessary to reframe and to rationalize dishonest acts. This hypothesis was tested in two studies. The results of Study 1 showed that individuals experiencing positive affect morally disengage to a greater extent than do individuals experiencing neutral affect. Study 2 built on this finding by demonstrating that the ability to morally disengage can lead individuals who experience positive affect to behave dishonestly. Specifically, the results of Study 2 showed that people experiencing positive affect are more likely to steal than individuals experiencing neutral affect, particularly when self-awareness is low. Furthermore, moral disengagement fully mediated this effect. Taken together, the results suggest that positive affect paves the way for the commission of dishonest acts by altering how individuals evaluate the moral implications of their own behavior.

Concepts: Human behavior, Theft, Dishonesty


People often anticipate certain benefits when making dishonest decisions. In this article, we aim to dissociate the neural-cognitive processes of (1) dishonest decisions that focus on overall benefits of being dishonest (regardless of whether the benefits are self-serving or prosocial) from (2) those that distinguish between self-serving and prosocial benefits. Thirty-one participants had the opportunity to maximize their monetary benefits by voluntarily making dishonest decisions while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In each trial, the monetary benefit of being dishonest was either self-serving or prosocial. Behaviorally, we found dissociable patterns of dishonest decisions: some participants were dishonest for overall benefits, while others were primarily dishonest for self-serving (compared with prosocial) benefits. When provided an opportunity to be dishonest for either self-serving or prosocial benefits, participants with a stronger overall tendency to be dishonest had stronger vmPFC activity, as well as stronger functional connectivity between the vmPFC and dlPFC. Furthermore, vmPFC activity was associated with decisions to be dishonest both when the benefits of being dishonest were self-serving and prosocial. Conversely, high self-serving-biased participants had stronger striatum activity and stronger functional connectivity between the striatum and middle-mPFC when they had a chance to be dishonest for self-serving (compared with prosocial) benefits. Altogether, we showed that activity in (and functional connectivity between) regions in the valuation (e.g., vmPFC and Str) and executive control (e.g., dlPFC and mmPFC) systems play a key role in registering the social-related goal of dishonest decisions.

Concepts: Nuclear magnetic resonance, Magnetic resonance imaging, Human behavior, Helium, Functional magnetic resonance imaging, Dissociation, The Opportunity, Dishonesty


Dishonesty in the classroom suggests dishonesty in practice. There is need to better understand nursing students' perceptions of dishonest behaviors in the classroom and clinical setting. There is currently no instrument to assess perceptions in the classroom and clinical setting.

Concepts: Psychology, Human behavior, Dishonesty