Great read, though I wonder if the book is more about temptation and whether dishonesty is one facet along a vast panoply of human experiences and emotion. Whether it's taking the big piece of cake or lying to millions in the House of Commons! Surely at one level or another we are all tempted, at times, and this book discusses the weakening and strengthening factors concerned with this process, along with many interesting examples.
Psychiatrists talk of 'protective factors', maybe thoughts about a loved one, which causes a patient intent on harming himself to stop. Temptation also has protective factors that we can call upon in that cusp of indecision. As a poor student, I lost my wallet running between trains at Birmingham. It was handed in complete and I have never forgotten my gratitude. A year ago when parking, my front tyre went over what turned out to be someone's wallet. I'm sure the devil would have reserved for me a nice warm seat if I had kept that wallet, but it would also have destroyed any positive emotion that I received from those experiences as a student, and rightly so too. Last month, here in Manchester, a man was coming from the bank with £1000 in his hand; he somehow tripped and the money promptly blew away. Sitting in his car a few minutes later- people started banging on the window in order to return the cash: 49, £20 notes were returned and my view is that those 49 people who acted in this way were enriched by that act; more so, than spending £20 that wasn't theirs, could ever have done.
I wonder therefore if it's important that we humans struggle with these dilemmas, if only because it enriches and 'validates' our lives. I appreciate that we won't all do the right thing all the time, but I believe that the vast majority on most occasions will do exactly that; and more than this we will all have a line - like giving a blind lady rotten tomatoes - that we simply will never cross.
I liked the section on how we lie to ourselves. For the politician who stands up and lies to millions, it could, kindly, be called 'being in denial' and on a lesser scale, surely we all lie to ourselves and maybe it's called confidence! One late night on call; I admitted 4 patients one after another to the same hospital. The doctor who received them berated me for handing him so much work and of course I would like to tell you that I saved 4 lives that night - but perhaps he would say that my confidence had suddenly evaporated and I was just playing it safe.
I worry about the so called victimless crime. Those who feign illness and live 'off the state' - who can it possibly hurt? Perhaps those who bear this burden on their taxes for one; and also those who are genuinely disabled. Also those who really try to stand up do the right thing and to better themselves - it must be hard when the chap next door stays in bed all day and has more money in his pocket! In addition those who cheat in this way lead half-lives which in turn leads to far more mental and physical problems.
So, as this book concludes, perhaps we all need to constantly remind ourselves of those factors which encourage us to do the right thing, not give in to temptation and continually strive to be 'better' people - its a good , stimulating read. Many thanks.
Dan Ariely, author of the marvellous Predictably Irrational and thoughtful commentator on human foibles, presents his latest book as a comprehensive review of the factors affecting honesty (and cheating). As always, his writing is accessible, entertaining, and often humorous. Where this book differs a little from others I have read of his or that are in this field, is that there is a significant focus on a particular set of experiments that Ariely and his team have conducted in his lab. The task involves having participants complete a very difficult task but to allow them to take extra credit for completing more problems within the task then they actually did, with each new experiment given a slight tweak, such as the presence of a collaborator, an observer, or other influences such as being given fake designer sunglasses to wear. As a scientific method within social science, this is a very reasonable approach and this content would make an excellent and very entertaining review in a scientific journal.
However, for a popular science book I felt that continually coming back to minor variations on what is (as Ariely admits) a very controlled situation, limits the applicability of the findings somewhat. Perhaps this is a sparse field, but there seemed less reference in this book to the experiments of other researchers then I remember in books like Predictably Irrational. Another area where Ariely is most engaging is in his own life experiences and anecdotes, which peppered his earlier work but which seem more muted here. In theoretical terms there is really only reference to two major theories - the "broken windows theory" - which as Ariely admits has little or unclear evidence behind it, and the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC), a straw man argument from theoretical economics if ever there was one, which suggests that humans are automatons who should steal from little old ladies whenever the benefits outweigh the costs. This is a shame as there are examples from sociobiology such as reciprocal altruism in primates which might have been instructive, and our interactions with others also involve more complex processes such as in-group / out-group identification. "Cognitive dissonance" is alluded to but not really explored deeply. Perhaps, as a "popular science" book, such considerations are out of scope or too broad for the level being aimed at, but there are many excellent books that attempt to explore the area of morality from a broader scientific basis starting with the Selfish Gene (Dawkins), the Origins of Virtue (Ridley), and Collapse (Diamond) to name a few. I do enjoy Ariely's work a lot and would certainly recommend this for a gentle introduction to thought about this area, but might direct the more hardcore nerd elsewhere.
I find Dan Ariely's books to be enjoyable, enlightening and mildly annoying, in equal measures. The mildly annoying bit is surely unfair (and unreasonable) of me. I do tend to find Ariely's determinedly jaunty tone a bit wearying: he writes as if his readers were a pleasant but especially dim-witted intake of undergraduates. This is probably the secret of his publishing success: as the great H. L. Mencken said, 'No one has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people' (you and me, in this context). I am also a bit resistant to the notion that things about the human condition with which we are entirely familiar cannot be taken to be really true until they have been 'proved' to be true by psychologists. Most of the simple but ingenious experiments of Mr Ariely and his fellows tend to confirm several facts about human nature of which we were, in general, already aware. I don't have a problem with that and I enjoyed reading the book. I doubt, however, if you will find that you have learned anything about human nature that you had not already learned from your own experience, and nothing that Ariely and his team 'discover' about our behaviour has not been rather more convincingly portrayed by our great playwrights and novelists.
Ariely, to be fair, sets out to write popular science, and he succeeds admirably, although - as ever with the genre - some of the science gets lost in amongst the popularisation. All of his experiments are thought-provoking, though some of his conclusions are more compelling than others. Some leave one wondering, 'Can we really draw that conclusion so emphatically from that data?' Be that as it may, the ingenious tests seem to prove Ariely's central point: pretty much anyone will cheat if they think they are going to get away with it but that, nevertheless, 'most people cheat just enough to still feel good about themselves.' Our notion of ourselves as being decent and upright folk will only withstand so much evidence to the contrary.
Ariely enhances this core tenet with elaborations about social effects, all of which are interesting but few of which are earth-shattering (if we see that other people are cheating, we're more likely to join in, especially if they are part of our social set; if we feel we're being observed, we're less likely to cheat) and with some of those interesting but occasionally slightly dubious other conclusions: willpower is limited and can be depleted, and we are more likely to succumb to temptation when we have already forced ourselves to resist a number of previous temptations (on that analysis, how does anyone ever give up smoking?); wearing sunglasses that we know to be fake designer sunglasses makes us more likely to cheat ('the wearers of fake sunglasses showed a much greater tendency to abandon their moral constraints and cheat at full throttle'). The moral of this tale would seem to be never to ask a friend wearing fake sunglasses to look after your handbag in the pub garden while you go to the loo.
All that said, this is a jolly and informative romp through some genuinely interesting current psychological thinking, entertainingly and readably presented. I have to declare an interest at this point: one of the chapters in this book is called `Blinded by our own motivations' and, in another chapter, Ariely writes that, 'We may not always know why we do what we do, choose what we choose, or feel what we feel.' As the man who has written a book called Blindsided on exactly that theme, I cannot help but say, in this particular context, that Dan Ariely is clearly a deeply perceptive and highly intelligent chap (demonstrably so, since he agrees with me).
I do, however, have a few gripes. Ariely concludes, as a result of a particular set of experiments, that people with a particularly creative mindset are more likely to deceive than others: their enhanced 'story-telling' abilities allow them to be comfortable with various version of reality that may not exactly coincide with what you and I thought had actually happened. ('The more creative we are, the more we are able to come up with good stories about how we are doing the right thing, even when we are not.') But then the psychologists discover that one sees the same effect in people who have been merely 'primed' for creativity by being exposed to a number of carefully-chosen words in the course of the experiment: 'creative', 'original', 'novel', 'new' and 'ingenious', for example. Since Ariely is attempting to make a conclusion based on the fundamental structure of individuals' brains (creative people have more white matter in their noddles and are therefore able to 'make more connections between different memories and ideas' than other people) it seems a bit cavalier (and unlikely) to suggest that merely introducing the notion of creativity via a few words can reconstruct conditions that he had previously argued were the result of the intrinsic physical make up of some individuals' brains.
I also wonder what Ariely is even thinking of when he says 'So where do we stand on self-deception? Should we maintain it? Eliminate it?' I thought that everything that Ariely had said in the book up until this point (page 158) had made it pretty clear that we didn't have much choice in the matter. And Ariely seems to want to discover the 'function' of self-deception. One of his core conclusions is that 'self-deception is similar to its cousins, overconfidence and optimism' in that it can help us deal with stress, carry out tedious tasks and get us to try new and different experiences (if we didn't deceive ourselves, we would realise that we were doomed to either boredom or failure, or both).
My fundamental complaint is that Ariely seems to begin with the premise that all human beings are essentially honest and then to drop his carefully manufactured bombshell (We are all far less honest than we think!) on our unsuspecting heads. I'm also far from sure that self-deception has any kind of benign 'function', as Ariely suggests: as social animals, most of us are aware that mere anarchy is the route to social disaster, but that doesn't mean that we can't help ourselves to just a little bit of something that might technically belong to somebody else. As self-aggrandising idiots, we also think that we are capable of anything. This leads us (happily) to attempt things that we should realise that we are incapable of. As Ariely says, 'we persist in deceiving ourselves in part to maintain a positive self-image. We gloss over our failures, highlight our successes (even when they are not entirely our own), and love to blame other people and outside circumstances when our failures are undeniable.' That is a lovely summing up of a critical part of the human condition, but I am uncertain about Ariely's suggestion that we have any choice as to whether to deceive ourselves or not, or that self-deception is some kind of advantageous evolutionary pressure that helps us to cope with the realities of human life. I feel rather that self-deception is simply a part of the human condition and that we might be far more evolutionarily successful (but also far more boring) if, like the Vulcan, Spock ,from Star Trek, we didn't actually practice self-deception in the way that we do.
But I wouldn't be making these moans and gripes if Ariely's book hadn't set me off on a number of trains of thought. If you are interested in human behaviour and psychology, you will enjoy this book.
on 16 November 2012
I first heard about this book through a friend. I picked it up in a local bookshop during a lunch hour and raced through the first 30 or so pages enjoying the clear moral questions that the book brings.
The author describes the results of thousands of experiments that he has conducted to show in what situations we are likely to cheat or lie and by how much. For example are we more or less likely to lie about how we did in a test if we know we cannot be caught? Or if there is monetary reward on offer? Or if we work in a group with complete strangers? The experiments are clearly explained and easy to follow. The results do seem predictable, but perhaps that is only in hindsight having read the explanation.
They raise some very interesting questions and real life applications, and the author seems to enjoy relating these to business situations. It really does make you consider your real life interactions and the behaviour of yourself and others, for example when your dentist tells you that you need an expensive filling, in what situation would he be exaggerating about the benefits it would bring to you? If you were seeing him for the first time, or if you had a long standing relationship?
I have to admit that I do have my reservations about social science experiments. I feel they can be set up in a way to fit whatever the person conducting the experiment wants to show. (Is this being dishonest!??) My other criticism of the book is that it does become a little repetitive and most of my enjoyment came from reading those first 30 pages in the book shop.
All in all an interesting read and I may well pick up Dan Ariely's earlier books that seem to have very favourable reviews.
on 9 February 2013
If this is the first book you read by Dan Ariely, you will probably find it well written, entertaining, full of insights and counter-intuitive facts about cheating. This is a book based on insights obtained from experimentation centered around a specific subject: cheating.
From that perspective this book is an excellent read for those that want to understand cheating and lying, importantly even lying to ourselves. The author arguments wery well how the traditional economists' model of looking for self interest does not work for lying or cheating. He shows very convincingly that we all cheat by a little bit, while trying to keep a good self-image of ourselves. More interestingtly, he explores, through experimentation, what factors influence cheating, some reducing it, others increasing it. In short, if you have not read any book from Dan Ariely yet and you are interested in the subject of cheating and lying, this is a very nice book.
Now, I have read Dan Ariely's two previous books and I was slightly disappointed for a couple of reasons. First there is a significant amount of material that was already covered in previous books. Second, compared to the other two, this book feels rather "light". Knowing the other two books I expected more content.
I would give it 3.5 stars, but because I had to choose between 3 and 4, I give it 4, thinking especially about those who have not yet read any book from this author.
on 5 March 2013
I bought this book after reading Dan's previous books and it completely met my expectations. His books are always interesting with plenty of experiments to prove his theories.
And I think that's the most interesting part of his books: the experiments. He won't just tell you "that's the way is is" period. He thinks "I believe that's the way it is, so lets test it with real people" And thats what he describes.
I would honestly [:)] recommend this book.
on 20 March 2013
1% are dishonest, and 98% of us will get away with what we think we can.
Ariely is a highly entertaining academic looking what makes us tick and how our honesty/dishonesty can affect how we behave and interact, and more importantly how we shape and manage our systems and environments to counter act human frailty/weakness.
If you have any interest in behavioral economics or human psychology this is definitely worth a read.
on 8 October 2012
The book covers a large variety of topics under the category of dishonesty, whilst maintaining a close focus on the topic. The statistics provided throughout are both convincing and surprising, posing questions about things in life that are often not even considered. Overall both an easy and interesting read.
on 13 June 2012
I eagerly awaited my Kindle version of this book, having very much enjoyed the author's other works - especially "Predictably Irrational". This book is written in a very similar style. Self contained chapters look at different aspects of why we do things the way we do, filled with interesting personal anecdotes and descriptions of experiments conducted.
This is a popular science book, in that it does not provide you with all the data, sample sizes, statistical variations and other guff that would serve to confuse many readers, or at least turn interesting anecdotes into dry ones. Instead the author provides a link back to the academic papers he is describing in his endnotes, and I think that worked very well. Here was a book filled with plenty to interest any reader, but a means to verify the claims made by the more academically inclined.
The subject of the book is dishonesty and cheating, and Ariely manages to demonstrate some quite counterintuitive facts about our propensity to cheat, showing how effects such as social norms, effects of in-groups and out groups, supervision, and even recollection of moral principles all affect our behaviour. Interestingly he shows that even given the perfect opportunity to cheat to the maximum without consequences, nearly all of us opt to only cheat a little - and he proposes the mechanisms by which we mitigate our behaviour.
There are plenty of public policy implications from this work, as well as helpful guides to the reader as to how to control their own nature. I was struck, at times, by how many of these ideas to manage our own moral compass actually were not new at all. Instead, the research presented served to explain why things many people have discovered over the years are effective after all.
A real eye opener for me, however, was the demonstration that early intervention for minor misdemeanours was, in fact, much more important than intervention for later ones. Once it was stated, this idea seemed to me to be obvious, and yet I doubt I would have thought of it without the experiments that demonstrated the effect.
So all in all a very good and interesting read, filled with plenty of anecdotes, and experiments that seemed to cover a range of walks of life (from students to bankers or politicians) and nationalities (turns out that no nationality stands out when it comes to our propensity to cheat).
Thoroughly recommended. This and Ariely's other works should be required reading for anyone who holds to a view that humans always act in the name of their rational self interest. Ariely shows once and for all that we do not.
This is a light, chatty overview of research into dishonesty and self-deception, much of it carried out by the author.
I have read other work by Ariely and I was in the audience for the launch of his previous book at which he made a speech that I found highly engaging and intelligent. I therefore expected this book to be well presented, entertaining and interesting. I was not disappointed. Many of the issues addressed, such as whether you should trust your dentist more if you know him or her well, what makes some people more dishonest than others and how do different situations encourage everyone to cheat less or more, are both surprising and rich in their implications for human society.
I am surprised at some of the slightly negative comments among the reviews. This is a quick, light read suitable for a wide audience. It doesn't give much detail of the research but there is no doubt about its validity. Ariely is a leader in his field and his research is highly respected. If anything I think the fault with the book is that its tone is so light it is easy to overlook how serious and weighty some of its findings are.
However, if you are worried about those comments and want something more detailed and rigorous I strongly recommend Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking Fast and Slow which covers similar and sometimes overlapping research. (I also attended Kahneman's book launch and found him highly intelligent though not as engaging as Ariely). It's a better book but, be warned, it's a much bigger investment in time and effort.
Many of the reviewers also seem to scoff that Ariely's findings are obvious. Ariely has the perfect answer to this. He says he often encounters such a reaction and sometimes asks people to predict the results of experiments before he reveals them. He finds a classic instance of self deception: if asked beforehand, people can't predict the results but if asked afterwards, they think they already knew. Self deception is so powerful, even having this explained at the beginning of the book does not seem to have overcome it.