November 30, 2011
Creative People More Likely To Cheat

If you need to trust people in a job then hire the least imaginative. Creative people are more likely to cheat for money when they are deceived into thinking they can get away with it.

WASHINGTON -- Creative people are more likely to cheat than less creative people, possibly because this talent increases their ability to rationalize their actions, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Creative rationalizations. Yes, if you are going to do something you are going to need to rationalize it is best to be good at rationalizing. Of course, an employer with a lot of money could hire a few creative types to come up with rationalizations.

Sure, creative people are great at coming up with new solutions to problems. But can you trust them?

"Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains, but creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks," said lead researcher Francesca Gino, PhD, of Harvard University.

Gino and her co-author, Dan Ariely, PhD, of Duke University, conducted a series of five experiments to test their thesis that more creative people would cheat under circumstances where they could justify their bad behavior. Their research was published online in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers used a series of recognized psychological tests and measures to gauge research 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. For example, in one experiment, participants took a general knowledge quiz in which they circled their answers on the test paper. Afterward, the experimenter told them to transfer their answers to "bubble sheets" but the experimenter 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.

So then giving people the opportunity to cheat on low stakes games is a way to discover who you can rely on when you really need no cheating.

You don't need to fear cheating from people just because they are smart. As long as an intelligent person isn't creative they are just as trustworthy as a dumb person isn't creative.

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

But surely some creative people are honest and good. What additional element of personality determines whether smart creative people will cheat?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 November 30 10:33 PM  Brain Ethics Law

Wolf-Dog said at December 1, 2011 12:01 AM:

There are many kinds of creativity. I am inclined to believe that a creative engineer is less likely to be dishonest than a creative business major. There are many forms of intelligence.

Samuel London said at December 1, 2011 5:27 AM:

Cheating is not a question of creativity! This is a question of being honest or not!

B.B. said at December 1, 2011 5:28 AM:

In Genius: The Natural History of Creativity, Hans Eysenck indicates that creativity and psychoticism are related phenomena. It wouldn't surprise me that people who score above average on the psychoticism scale are more likely to cheat in order to obtain money.

Brent Buckner said at December 1, 2011 6:19 AM:

McCoy: Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario.
Saavik: How?
Kirk: I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship.
Saavik: What?
David Marcus: He cheated.
Kirk: I changed the conditions of the test; got a commendation for original thinking. I don't like to lose.
(c.f. )

Lono said at December 1, 2011 8:13 AM:


Absolutely agreed!

Brent Buckner,

Nice! - And I think it also goes to the point of would someone creative cheat on what they perceive as a game or an arbitrary test of their knowledge - but not cheat in things like business that has a much larger anti-social effect and much graver consequences.

Personally - as someone who is highly intelligent and creative I cheat (or bend the rules) on things/systems all the time - but I'd rather go to jail then cheat an honest person out of a buck.

(and I gain absolutely no pleasure in competitive activities where I have an unfair material advantage)

Phillep Harding said at December 1, 2011 3:32 PM:

Our economy might have lasted longer had we used such a test for the Federal Reserve chairman.

Wolfdog, agreed. Crooked engineers have to explain why bridges collapse. Hard to baffle-gab this type of math.

bbartlog said at December 1, 2011 6:06 PM:

The military has (well, had... probably still has) a variety of tests designed to identify trustworthy soldiers. Heinlein describes one such (I forget which book): people (cadets) are supposed to close their eyes and drop coins into a bottle from above (with multiple tries). Of course (A) this is more or less impossible and (B) it is easy to peek and cheat. Scores are recorded and it is the lowest scoring individuals who are the real winners. Of course the truly sly also know what is really up...
Similarly, when I was a freshman in college I took Military Science I, which was for people who might be interested in ROTC. One of the tests they administered was a test of reading speed, with self-reported scores. I read quite fast and accurately reported a score of 400 WPM (average for age 17 is 240 or so). I was surprised to see that many people had reported speeds of 700, 800, even 900 words per minute. It wasn't until I had a chance to think about it later that I realized what was really being tested.

John Moore said at December 1, 2011 7:03 PM:

Creative psychologists more likely to publish meaningless pap based on experiments on self-selected college students. Non-creative journalists are more likely to hype this nonsense.

Most of these experiments are so poorly designed that they cannot be generalized to much of anything, except the behavior of the aforementioned college students.

David Gobel said at December 2, 2011 8:12 AM:

Cheating is a value judgement based on semantic framing. The creative look past the conventional framing and independently frame the situation seeking (usually) local and (sometimes) global optimizations. They then reweigh the "creative" solution against win/lose potentials of the conventional framing (ie-if I get caught). Pirates, entrepreneurs, inventors, actors, activists do this.

Local optimizers are usually branded as criminals/anti-social, global optimizers are usually branded as criminals or saviours depending on how things work out.

To the British elite, Ghandi was a super-criminal...but things worked out differently due to global optimizing.

Branding a thing as cheating is driven by a general desire for control and predictability. This is useful until the predictability becomes pathologically negative (ie vaccines are evil because they put "cow stuff" in humans).

The truly creative work to understand what Good actually might mean, and then work to bring it about. Most consider the understanding and pursuit of good for its own sake to be pure pablum and not a worthy goal of creativity. This is where we need more creativity!


Phillep Harding said at December 2, 2011 4:44 PM:

Soooo, those who cheat are superior to those who do not. Glad you were so... creative... in explaining that.

Phos said at December 9, 2011 8:50 PM:

It is fairly common for this type of psychological study to have an overt purpose and a 'hidden' purpose. Perhaps the more creative were able to discern the 'hidden game'

OTOH, my ethics professor related that when he was a student, the library was often missing books from the ethics section- the biblical studies section not so much. The theory was that the biblical studies majors read, "thou shall not steal," and returned their books. The ethics students, schooled in situational ethics, were more likely to rationalize their book 'acquisition'.

Kim Gone said at December 19, 2011 6:35 AM:

I guess I can see some reason in the post. At least in the sense that creative people come easier with ideas of cheating in situations that are hard to cheat.

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