Dan Ariely has written a very interesting book entitled, “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How to Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.” The book attempts to explain how people balance the two forces of being honest and the desire to benefit from dishonesty.
Among his conclusions is that people believe that if they cheat just a little, then they still consider themselves as being honest. For example, if pencils are taken home from the office, that’s O.K., but taking petty cash can’t be justified.
In a setting where free food is available for a private party, it is hard to be the first person who was not invited to the party to partake in some of the free food. However, as soon as one person takes some food, it is easy for others to follow.
When college students were given a test and reported the number of correct answers on the honor system, most cheated a little. They reported six correct answers when they only had four correct. (This was verified by the paper disposal cutting only the sides of the test results, not the entire test results as had been assumed). In essence, not too many cheated a lot, but a lot cheated a little.
Here is another experiment. When students wore a shirt with the name of their university and another team from a competing university wore shirts with their university’s name, an “other group” situation (us vs. them) was created. The “other students” cheated, but then the “home” team did not. Their rationale was, “We’re not like them.”
Finally, when students were asked to think of the Ten Commandments—if they knew them or not, if they were religious or not—cheating stopped. People began to think about their morality, became more vigilant, and behaved more morally.
Moral: Just the simple act of REFLECTION on a moral code stopped cheating.