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The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves Hardcover – June 5, 2012
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The behavioral economist and New York Times bestselling Author of the up side of Irrationality and predictably irrational examines the contradictory forces that drives us to heat and keep us honest.
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The author relates how various behavioral economics experiments show how dishonest the vast majority of us are -- and the likely reasons. And how many of us are deluding ourselves when we believe we're always "perfectly" honest. For example -- how deeply the perception of fairness affects all of us (for example, how hard we're willing to work depending on our perception of our treatment compared to our peers or compared to promises made, by our employer).
The material is presented in a systematic way, with good coverage (at a layman's level) of a surprising (to me as a layman) variety of topics.
For those interested in the intersection of psychology and economics, especially through the lens of honesty, this was both a very enlightening and entertaining read.
It's not perfect. Ariely should be a bit careful about flinging around accusations. For example, he stated/implied that many dentists are shafting their patients for material gain (more work in the future) by using modern plastics and other substances to repair teeth, instead of old fashioned metal (amalgam) fillings.
Well, I discussed this with my dentist briefly (after he again displayed his honesty by telling me the "crack" I saw was NOT a problem and no, I did NOT need an expensive crown -- that something (tea in my case) had merely stained and accentuated the line between a filling and my tooth. I told him about this accusation and how it bothered me since it was done so casually and with so little detail, and painting the entire industry as crooked. My dentist explained how there is lots of data on this, and the issue is generally with low cost dental-maintenance programs. (This makes sense -- when you try to save money, you generally sacrifice quality. You don't get something for nothing, no matter how much marketers may promise it).
So I don't know how many other times Mr. Ariely might have misstated something like this, for areas I have less experience and reason to question the data in. (I'm NOT saying he did this deliberately -- I'm saying before you accuse an industry of cheating -- be a lot more careful to do it accurately, and include the necessary caveats. Saying some DMA programs likely do X to make more money is a LOT different than saying this is common practice in the dental industry generally. Also, his statement that all other materials are less durable than metal is somewhere between highly questionable and objectively false (to me as a layman).
When I was a using addict, I lied so much that it became second nature. I told big lies, small lies, dirty lies, barefaced lies, white lies, and black ones too. My motto was, "Deny everything." Even when the deconstruction of my fabrication was readily apparent and the evidence of my malfeasance displayed before me...I lied.
I didn't realize that this particular shortcoming, one among many, was yet another manifestation of my ugly addiction. I just assumed that I was a liar, always was, and always will be, one more shameful label branded upon my less than reputable character. So I was relieved to discover that that's not who I truly am. You see, addiction cannot survive without dishonesty. Honesty is to addiction what water is to fire, what light is to darkness. The two cannot co-exist. And that would explain why the topic at my first recovery meeting was...you guessed it - honesty.
So that's why I would waste my oh-so-precious time reading a book titled "The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty". It's written by Dan Ariely who is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. He conducted many experiments to discover what motivates a person to cheat as well as what keeps them honest. He also discovered a couple of things that, counter-intuitively, have no effect on honesty.
So what increases dishonesty? Conflicts of interest, watching others behave dishonestly, the ability to rationalize our dishonesty, and, surprisingly, creativity, all seem to increase dishonesty. What decreases it? Taking pledges before the temptation, moral reminders such as honor codes or the ten commandments, also presented right before the temptation, and supervision (obviously), decreased cheating. And what had no effect?
Contrary to what you might expect, Ariely found that the amount of money to be gained and the probability of getting caught had no effect on whether a person would lie cheat or steal. And he found that most people, at least the people who participated in his experiments, will cheat a tiny bit, up to the level that allows them to retain their self-image as a reasonably honest individual.
While this book didn't exactly deal with the level of dishonesty that accompanies addiction, I still found it very interesting, chock-full of humorous anecdotes and Ariely's witty observations. I learned a little more about human nature, which is a fascinating subject to me, and you can bet that I'll be more aware of the forces at play the next time I'm tempted to lie, cheat, or steal.
Review Written by David Allan Reeves
Author of "Running Away From Me"