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The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves Paperback – June 18, 2013
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“Ariely raises the bar for everyone. In the increasingly crowded field of popular cognitive science and behavioral economics, he writes with an unusual combination of verve and sagacity.” (Washington Post)
“I thought [Ariely’s] book was an outstanding encapsulation of the good hearted and easygoing moral climate of the age.” (David Brooks, the New York Times)
“The best-selling author’s creativity is evident throughout. . . . A lively tour through the impulses that cause many of us to cheat, the book offers especially keen insights into the ways in which we cut corners while still thinking of ourselves as moral people.” (Time.com)
“Captivating and astute. . . . In his characteristic spry, cheerful style, Ariely delves deep into the conundrum of human (dis)honesty in the hopes of discovering ways to help us control our behavior and improve our outcomes.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Dan Ariely ingeniously and delightfully teases out how people balance truthfulness with cheating to create a reality out of wishful-blindness reality. You’ll develop a deeper understanding of your own personal ethics—and those of everybody you know.” (Mehmet Oz, MD; Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University and host of The Dr. Oz Show)
“Anyone who lies should read this book. And those who claim not to tell lies are liars. So they sould read this book too. This is a fascinating, learned, and funny book that will make you a better person.” (A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically and Drop Dead Healthy)
“I was shocked at how prevalent mild cheating was and how much more harmful it can be, cumulatively, compared to outright fraud. This is Dan Ariely’s most interesting and most useful book.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan)
“Through a remarkable series of experiments, Ariely presents a convincing case. . . . Required reading for politicians and Wall Street executives.” (Booklist)
From the Back Cover
The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with a thought-provoking work that challenges our preconceptions about dishonesty and urges us to take an honest look at ourselves.
Does the chance of getting caught affect how likely we are to cheat?
How do companies pave the way for dishonesty?
Does collaboration make us more or less honest?
Does religion improve our honesty?
Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it's a white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely shows why some things are easier to lie about than others; how getting caught matters less than we think in whether we cheat; and how business practices pave the way for unethical behavior, both intentionally and unintentionally. Ariely explores how unethical behavior works in the personal, professional, and political worlds, and how it affects all of us, even as we think of ourselves as having high moral standards. But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives.
With compelling personal and academic findings, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others.
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Ariely’s “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty” is engagingly written, interesting, informative, entertaining but ultimately tremendously frustrating. Ariely attempts to present a systematic demonstration of how common cheating is and what some of the situational factors are which increase or decrease its prevalence. His points are interesting but largely mundane. In sharp contrast to his experimental methods and findings, Ariely’s anecdotes (e.g., his Eurorail ticket escapade) and his observational studies (e.g., Coke in the refrigerator, generous snack machine) are more interesting, more substantive and more thought-provoking and nuanced.
Unfortunately, there are major systemic flaws in the experimental methods Ariely uses to make his rather non-controversial main point: Some people cheat some of the time.
My fundamental frustration is that, like many experiments in behavioral economics and psychology, the meanings of the results of the experiments are open to multiple interpretations but Ariely emphasizes the ones that support his narrative. He continually implicitly attributes motives and thought processes to his subjects. We never hear from the subjects as to their interpretation of the situations and their explanations as to why they decided to cheat or not to cheat. This is a very fundamental methodological and epistemological problem with this kind of experiment. (Another reviewer pointed to Sissela Bok’s book Lying and in particular Chapter 13 on deception in social science research. Here I am focused not so much on the morality of deception, but the limits such deception places on our ability to understand the phenomena being examined)
Second, Ariely’s descriptions of his experiments are grossly inadequate. For example, he does not report the actual numbers of individuals in the myriad of experiments who did not cheat and the degree to which they actually cheated. He reports the averages of the groups exposed to a particular experimental condition. As far as I am concerned, this is highly problematic to the point of dishonesty. What makes it worse is that he does not report all the referenced experiments in the footnotes or the bibliography thereby making it very difficult to find the actual numbers for the experiments. I kept looking for a simple number – the percentage of people who actually cheated. He does not report this number and it is infuriating because you are left to conclude that everybody cheats in the experiments to some degree and this is simply and dramatically untrue. (The write up of at least some of the experiments in journal articles is also sloppy.) In trying to find Ariely-related experiments where researchers actually talked to people as people, I found a paper by one of his major collaborators, Prof. Francesca Gino, titled “Dishonest Deed, Clear Conscience”. The title suggests that some debriefing took place. Actually there was no debriefing of subjects but it did report an experiment where the researchers matched individuals with their answer sheets so that they could determine who cheated and by how much and, more importantly, who did not. It turns out that when simply given the opportunity and an incentive to cheat 43% of subjects DID NOT CHEAT. When shown an honor code, 68% DID NOT CHEAT. When asked to read and sign an honor code, only one subject out of 22 cheated, i.e., 95% DID NOT CHEAT! In my opinion, these numbers put Ariely’s results in a completely different light and require him to discuss in more detail what it is that make some people cheat and others not cheat. This is at the root of my frustration with the experimental methodology he uses.
Third, there is the obvious philosophical and ethical question raised by Bok as to why one would trust somebody who continuously uses deception and lies to generate “truth”. Ariely is well aware of this conundrum and makes a joke of it in his closing comment in Chapter 7. However, acknowledging the conundrum does not resolve the conundrum. The issue of deception in social science research is widely recognized but continues and is now probably more pervasive than ever. Ariely should consider alternative more honest means of exploring honesty and dishonesty. In short, why should we trust Ariely?
In sum, Ariely’s book fails to live up to its title. Even on its own narrow terms, it hardly amounts to the truth about dishonesty and he certainly does not show that “we lie to everyone, especially ourselves”. In fact, I would argue that Ariely, at a number of levels, is fundamentally dishonest in his representation of how widespread dishonesty is.
Not so here. True, some of the early pages aren't new ideas. You can find similar exercises on honesty in "Exercises in Ethics". But as the book goes deeper, it gets more and more interesting. You may find yourself squirming a little as Ariely explores the relativity of honesty.
Atheists can be influenced by religious reminders. And the religious will fudge the rules as readily as the non-believer. How dirty will the act of dishonesty get you? That is a sort of determining factor of whether we jump to the dark side. It's more a perception of self than that of 'right'.
Because I am in business, I read books like this primarily for business application. I found a lot of very valuable insight in this book. Properly approached, companies could save billions in losses. Using the principles in sales, someone just might greatly improve their close rate.
There is a lot to assimilate. If you give it thought, you'll surely get a return on your investment by reading the book. If you approach the book purely for entertainment, you'll get that too.
That makes a book worthy of the paper. It's a keeper for your library.
As I started to read this book, I did wonder a bit about the true scientific nature of his studies. Some of the assumptions behind the hypotheses seem obvious. For instance, it's harder to make good decisions if your mind is overtaxed seems obvious to a parent of a toddler, who is working and going to grad school. However, the more you delve into the book, the moral is more that even if you have a gut instinct about something, you should try to prove it, as your first instinct may not always be correct.
I thought one weakness of the book was the obviousness of some of the experiments. The one that I became stuck on was an experiment in which he places a plate of dollar bills and a six pack of Cokes into a refridgerator in a college dorm. The Cokes disappear, while no one takes the dollar. Ariely's assumption is that people are less apt to take actual money, but will take something else, like a can of Coke. If I saw a plate of dollar bills in a shared refridgerator, I would assume that someone was monitoring whether anyone would be willing to take them.
I do believe that this book will remind me as I move forward with my fraud education and career, that it is not always safe to go with your gut. You really should look for stronger evidence to back your assumptions.