Today's encore selection -- from "Why We Cheat" by Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall, Scientific American Mind.
In the animal kingdom, the bigger the brain, the more the species will cheat. And cheating is contagious:
"Cheating is not limited to humans; it has been documented throughout the living world, wherever there is competition for limited resources. ...
In an effort to better understand cheating, scientists have discovered that creativity, fear of loss and the observation of dishonest behavior can motivate cheating or make it more likely. ...
In nature, cheating has evolved as a way for organisms to gain advantage over others without incurring the cost of effort. ...
"One major manifestation of social intelligence is the ability to deceive.
Tactical deception is widespread among primates.
Ethologist Hans Kummer of the University of Zurich vividly described cheating behavior in hamadryas baboons in Ethiopia: female juveniles mate with juvenile males while concealing their actions from the alpha male by hiding behind rocks.
Primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University has documented examples of deception by chimpanzees living in captivity.
In 2004 psychologists Richard W. Byrne of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and Nadia Corp, now at Keele University in England, showed that neocortex size predicts the degree to which primates practice deception. The bigger the neocortex in a species, the more individuals in that society use dishonest tactics for social manipulation.
"Humans are surprisingly quick to cheat when the circumstances are conducive.
In 2008 behavioral economist Dan Ariely of Duke University and his colleagues described what happened when they asked college students to solve math puzzles for cash rewards. When the researchers changed the experimental conditions such that the students assumed the examiner could not detect cheating, the average self-reported test score rose significantly. The researchers determined that the scores were not inflated by a few students who cheated a lot but rather by many students cheating a little.
"Not everyone is equally likely to cheat, however.
In 2011 Ariely and behavioral economist Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School reported that people who score higher on psychological tests of creativity are more apt to engage in dishonesty -- a connection that is perhaps not surprising considering that creativity and tactical deception are both products of the neocortex.
Yet Gino and Ariely believe the two are not just anatomically correlated but causally connected. They submit that creative individuals are better at self-deception: they come up with more inventive rationalizations for cheating as a way of making themselves feel better about doing it. ...
Ironically, the creativity and intelligence that we regard as distinctly human might have arisen alongside our ability to deceive. We are who we are because we cheat. ...
"Cheating can breed more of the same if nothing puts a brake on the process.
Once someone has overcome the initial barrier to cheating, subsequent hurdles to dishonest behavior may seem smaller and trivial to surmount.
Ariely calls this response the 'what the hell' effect, as in 'what the hell, I already blew my diet, so I may as well have the dessert.' ...
Another way that cheating can spread is through copycat behavior. Seeing someone else cheat without apparent consequences strongly encourages others to do the same. ...
In 2011 psychologists Agata Blachnio and Malgorzata Weremko of Catholic University of Lublin in Poland described an experiment in which students took a spelling test in a room secretly fitted with a one-way mirror. A dictionary and a thesaurus were in the room, but the students were asked not to use them. Subjects were three times as likely to cheat when an assistant posing as a cheating student was also present. In fact, unchecked dishonesty can promote the perception that one must cheat to remain competitive.
"Such observations have led Ariely to refer to cheating as 'infectious.' ...
This kind of social contagion may help explain the high prevalence of cheating in relatively small groups of people. For example, 125 Harvard students were recently under investigation for cheating on the final examination in an introductory government course. (More than half these students were told to withdraw from school for up to a year as punishment.) It is statistically unlikely that nearly half the 279 students in that class are sociopaths given the low prevalence of sociopathy -- about 3 percent in males and 1 percent in females.
A more plausible explanation is contagion. The widespread bending of the rules probably led students to conclude that collaborating with other students was okay."
Author: Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall
Title: "Why We Cheat"
Publisher: Scientific American Mind
Date: May/June 2013