When bosses, teachers, parents, and motivational posters encourage creativity or outside-the-box thinking, they probably don't realize that they're simultaneously encouraging dishonesty. That's because creativity and dishonesty are inextricably bound to one another; creativity allows the opportunity to lie for the sake of self-interest, and then those lies demand more creativity to justify the bad behavior.
In a survey among young professionals, the people who rated their jobs as requiring a high level of creativity also reported more unethical behavior each day at work. Still, that's only one study, and if they really are duplicitous, then who's to say they were honest on the survey? Well, in each case, their superiors corroborated the findings (and also probably fired their lying asses).
"We know what you did. We know what you did. We know what you did."
Also, in an experiment conducted by Harvard University on the relationship between creativity and dishonesty, a group of participants were asked to solve a series of problems that required inventive solutions as a way to get the creative juices flowing. Then they were given a die to roll, and they had to self-report what number they got. However, they were guaranteed the dollar equivalent of each number they rolled: 1 would get $1, 2 would get $2, etc. Defying the law of averages, the creatively primed people self-reported a whopping average of 5, while those who weren't primed self-reported an average of 3. All it took was the belief that they could outsmart some scientists for them to rewrite their ethics in the hopes of getting some extra cash.
This is another one that makes perfect sense once you think it through. Creativity is like a superpower that will inevitably corrupt whoever has it. Being creative grants the related ability to out-think your audience, making it easier to see inventive loopholes and ways around society's rules. Then once you do it the first time, it gets easier and easier to do it again because you're so goddamn good at it.
"Just working on a little art project for my nephew."
Yes, finally all your depression is paying off. Recent studies suggest that there's actually a huge downside to happiness. In experiments, people who are feeling euphoric tend to be significantly more selfish and less considerate than others.
Researchers gave participants a test on cognition, which they didn't bother to score. Instead, they arbitrarily gave some of them high scores and some of them low scores, and then, in a shocking display of dickishness, did their best to make the people who scored low feel terrible about themselves for being stupid. Simultaneously, the research team praised the people who scored high. Once they had the "geniuses" feeling good about themselves and everyone else on the verge of tears, they offered raffle tickets for a giveaway to the participants, but also gave everyone the option to share their tickets with other people who didn't have any.
"Fuck charity. I'm freebasing joy over here."
Now, logic would suggest that the happy people would be more open to sharing, since they already felt like everything was going well for them. But that's not what happened. Instead, the happy people turned into greedy pricks and kept all the tickets for themselves, while the people who had been berated for being stupid were much more willing to share.
To be sure of their findings, the same team did another experiment, but this time they elicited feelings of elation or sadness by showing half of the participants clips of the comedy Fawlty Towers and the other half selections from the famously depressing movie Angela's Ashes. Again, they got the same results once they started handing out raffle tickets. The students who had just spent 10 minutes enjoying themselves suddenly turned into Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, caressing their worthless little pieces of numbered card stock.
"Get that other starving kid out of my sight before I murder-fuck everyone!"
The researchers concluded that when we're happy, we really don't care about anything else. Our views are skewed, and subconsciously, all we want is to keep extending the feeling of joy, so we do whatever we can to keep ourselves happy, even if it means ignoring others. For sad people, they're not high on euphoria, so they think more rationally and try to include others. This could go a long way toward explaining why people who spend their summers grinning from the bow of their yacht in the Hamptons are so unwilling to share any of their money, even with good causes.
We've saved this one for last, because it's probably the saddest of all.
Now, let's say you never wear knockoffs, you avoid alcohol at all costs, you're completely uncreative, you just brushed your teeth, and you're also permanently miserable (which isn't hard to imagine). Surely then you've avoided all the pitfalls of being an asshole, right? No. You already know that answer is no. Every one of you is just as likely to be an amoral, unethical jerk as the rest of us, just as long as it doesn't take much work to do it.
"This hurts my neck. Can you just write my answers in for me?"
A study out of the University of Toronto in Canada (a country where everyone is allergic to being an asshole) asked participants to take a math test on a computer, but the computer had a glitch that they asked the subjects to overcome: The answers would appear on the screen. For half of the participants, the answers would show up if they pressed the space bar, and the other half would see the answers if they didn't press the Enter key within five seconds of seeing the question. The subtle difference was that, in the first group, they had to act if they wanted to cheat, but the second group could be passive about it. And of course, they all took the test while they were unknowingly observed, because science is voyeuristic by nature.
Naturally, the second group was significantly more likely to cheat. But that's not all. In another study, a computer program asked participants if they would volunteer to help a student with a learning disability complete a section of the test. The first group of participants were given direct "Yes" or "No" check boxes, while the second group had to follow another two links before they had to decide. Researchers found that when people were presented with the "Yes" or "No" choice up front, they were five times more likely to help the student compared to people who had to follow several links to help out. That's because when we're confronted with an ethical decision like this, it's much harder for us to say no when we don't have a way to justify it to ourselves. But when there's any sort of effort involved in doing the right thing, we say it's too complicated and we wash our hands of the whole thing.
"Here's some coffee. I'd take you to the shelter across town, but I've gotta go to work. Doctor. Doctor work."
What's more, you can see this at work in your life every single day. It's the reason Facebook has "Ignore" buttons for friend requests instead of "Deny" buttons. It's the reason invites have a "Maybe" option instead of just "Decline." It's the reason moms in sitcoms will only read their daughter's diary if the book happens to fall open on the floor while she's cleaning. These little things allow us to be passive assholes, satisfying our self-interest while protecting us from feeling too badly about being an outright dick about it. We're only about as honest as our options force us to be.
For more things science has to say about your behavior, check out 6 Factors That Secretly Influence Who You Have Sex With and 5 Douchebag Behaviors Explained by Science.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The North Korean Video Game for People Who Hate Fun.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why you eat too many tacos.
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