Sunday, August 12, 2012

The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely ***

In The (Honest)Truth About Dishonesty, Professor of Psychology Dan Ariely recounts dozens of experiments ... mostly, I assume, on unsuspecting undergraduates. It seems that academic psychologists never tire of tricking undergraduates with various games that I imagine the psychologists take much more seriously that their subjects. After all the undergraduates are in it for a few dollars for beer and pizza, but the very livelihood of the academic depends on the papers derived from these activities.

CAVEAT: If you heard about this book on a NPR interview, don't bother to read it. As an avid NPR listener - I listen to many public-radio podcasts when I walk each morning - most of the book was familiar from these interviews.

The most interesting result was that
individuals who were more creative also had higher levels of dishonesty. Intelligence ... wasn't correlated ... with dishonesty.
On the other hand neither the amount to be gained nor the chance of being apprehended had much impact on cheating.

IRONY: One of the quotes of praise on the book jacket is from Jonah Lehrer, who was recently forced to resign from the New Yorker staff for fabricating quotes.

In the end, the author ponders, as academics have a tendency to do, how to stop all this cheating - especially petty theft. He makes an (unconvincing) argument that the cost of petty theft much out weighs the big headlines (e.g., Enron, Mortgage-Backed Securities). Without considering that there is little effort to curb petty theft, he jumps into a modern-day version of self flagellation.

A fine book for voyeurs who enjoy laughing at undergraduates and others who are not as smart as the reader or the author.

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