Home > Uncategorized > I read a book… (I do it more often these days)

I read a book… (I do it more often these days)

September 7, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I just finished reading a new book entitled "The Honest Truth about Dishonesty" by Dan Ariely.  He is a professor of "behavioral economics" and I have enjoyed some of his TEDtalks  and have read another of his books.  He and his collaborators devise lots of interesting “experiments” that try to understand how we make decisions.  The previous book I read was about decision making and how we often make irrational decisions.  This book, as the title implies is about dishonesty and I found it fascinating.

Throughout the book he tells of various experiments in determining the factors that impact dishonesty.  The book isn’t written from a Christian perspective but it has a lot to say about the moral status of mankind.  His conclusion is that most people are as dishonest as they can be and still think of themselves as a good person.  It also highlights our amazing ability to justify our actions and thus allow us to still consider ourselves to be moral.

To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

                                                                         – Proverbs 21:3

There were many interesting points but I wanted to write about one particular set of experiments.  In this, there was a mathematical test participants were asked to perform.  Of course, there was a control group so they had a good idea of how many questions, on average, a person could complete in the time allotted.  This test was then given to several different groups with variations in the instructions which gave the participants the ability to cheat. For example, they would complete the test, grade their own test and then shred it and then report their results.  Overall, everybody cheated a little.  They then repeated the test with a small financial reward for each question correctly answered (still having the participants shred their paper before reporting their results).  Again, everybody cheated a little.  They repeated with a much larger financial reward and, again, everyone cheated a little (no statistical difference related to the financial reward involved).

All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.

                                                                      – Proverbs 16:2

In another setting, they split the group into two groups.  Before starting the test, one group was asked to think of ten books they read in high school and the other group was asked to think of the ten commandments.  Nothing written down, just to think about it before they gave the exact same instructions to each group.  Despite the fact that no one was able to recount all ten commandments, the group who thought of a moral code didn’t cheat while the other group whose thought exercise was neutral cheated at the same level.  He also mentioned that they saw the same results when they asked professing atheists to swear on the Bible… they also didn’t cheat. 

So why am I writing about this?  I found it interesting that just the reminder of a moral code (it worked with other thought exercises such as the university honor code) could help keep people from cheating.  There is no reason to think that the group who was asked to think about the ten commandments were any different from the other group in terms of knowledge of a moral code, it was the reminder that changed their actions.  How much time am I taking to be reminded and how much would that help me do the things I know I should do?

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

                                                                              Psalm 119:11

There were many other aspects of the book that had direct application to our daily lives but I will end with just one…  A chapter was dedicated to the impact those around us have on our honesty.  One person was planted in the group and this person obviously cheated (stood up after just a few minutes announcing he had finished it all)… cheating amongst the group went up). 

The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
                                                                        – Proverbs 12:26

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