1 December 2011

Creative types more likely to cheat

by Will Parker

While creativity helps people solve difficult problems, it also makes them more likely to cheat than less creative people, claims new research that suggests creativity increases a person's ability to rationalize their cheating.

Lead researcher Francesca Gino, of Harvard University, conducted a series of five experiments to test the hypothesis that more creative people would cheat under circumstances where they could justify their bad behavior. The findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Gino and co-researcher Dan Ariely first used a series of psychological tests and measures to gauge their subjects' creativity. They also tested participants' intelligence. In each of the five experiments, participants received a small sum for showing up. Then, they were presented with tasks or tests where they could be paid more if they cheated.

In one experiment, participants took a general knowledge quiz in which they circled their answers on the test paper. Afterward, the subjects were told to transfer their answers to "bubble sheets" - but the researcher told the group she had photocopied the wrong sheet and that the correct answers were lightly marked. The experimenters also told participants they would be paid more for more correct answers and led them to believe that they could cheat without detection when transferring their answers. However, all the papers had unique identifiers.

The results showed the more creative participants were significantly more likely to cheat, and that there was no link between intelligence and dishonesty - that is, more intelligent but less creative people were not more inclined toward dishonesty.

"Dishonesty and innovation are two of the topics most widely written about in the popular press," Gino noted. "Yet, to date, the relationship between creativity and dishonest behavior has not been studied empirically. The results indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas."

The authors suggested that future research should investigate whether creativity would lead people to satisfy selfish, short-term goals rather than their higher aspirations when faced with self-control dilemmas, such as eating a slice of cake when trying to lose weight.

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Source: American Psychological Association