The 'What the Hell Effect': How We Cheat and Still Look in the Mirror

By Maria Popova

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And "how do we get people to feel clean again?"

From the fantastic RSA Animate series comes an illustrated distillation of behavioral economist Dan Ariely's new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone -- Especially Ourselves, which you might recall. Here, Ariely highlights some of the fascinating psychological mechanisms that steer our moral compass -- and often do so in directions different from our self-conception as righteous people -- explaining everything from why we cheat on our diets to how the world ended up in a massive financial crisis, and offering lab-tested behavioral insights on what we can do about it all.

If you think about the whole financial crisis, we've taken people and we've put them in situations which basically are guaranteed to blind or, at least, to distort their vision. And we expect people to overcome that.

We all have a tendency to think of people as good or bad. And, we say, as long as we kick the bad people, everything would be fine. But the reality is that we all have the capacity to be quite bad, under the right circumstances, and I think in banking we've created the right circumstances for everybody to misbehave. And, because of that, it's not such a matter of kicking some people and getting new people in -- it's about changing the incentive structure. Because, unless we change that, we're not going to get forward.

For a closer look at The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, see these annotated excerpts from a chapter on the relationship between creativity and dishonesty.



This post also appears on Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/the-what-the-hell-effect-how-we-cheat-and-still-look-in-the-mirror/262458/