It is horrifyingly easy to manipulate a person's moral decisions without them knowing it -- that's why this is one of our favorite subjects. We've previously talked about how everything from caffeine to bad lighting can turn you into a jerk. There are all kinds of unpredictable exterior stimuli that are basically like cheat codes for turning perfectly good people into dickheads, and they only get weirder ...
It's no secret that alcohol amplifies obnoxiousness. It tears down the walls of inhibition, revealing that we're all secretly loud, unapologetic dicks just beneath the surface. Studies on this subject would be hilarious, but not terribly surprising. Here's what is surprising, though: Drinkers are just as awful when thinking about alcohol. More specifically, they become a lot more racist.
One study involved exposing participants to a series of magazine ads to prime them -- half of the participants saw ads for alcoholic beverages, and the other half saw ads for soda and water. Afterward, to examine their racist tendencies, researchers gave them multiple tests, showing a split-second image of a white face or a black face and then a picture of either a gun or a tool, at which point the participants were asked to identify what they had just seen. Well, it turns out that the people who had seen the alcohol ads frequently mistook the tool for a gun during quick identification. But here's where it gets weird: They only mistook it for a gun when it was a black face that preceded the picture. Those who had seen the ads for non-alcoholic beverages were not just better at identifying the difference between hammers and automatic weapons; they were also significantly less racist when they did mess up. What the hell?
"Everybody on the fucking ground! This is a robbery!"
To explain this, we have to understand how the subconscious works. Your brain is constantly registering and associating things without your input because you'd go insane if it tried to run everything by your conscious mind. Picture your subconscious as a secretary or assistant, making decisions that are so small or trivial that they aren't worth the boss's time. It's very easy to forget how extremely powerful the secretary actually is, just by virtue of all of these little decisions it makes day to day. And no matter how many "racism is wrong" messages you get in your conscious mind, lots of us still subconsciously make the connection between, say, black men and violence.
So even if you don't think you're racist, your subconscious secretary is still signing your name with a rubber stamp to some pretty racist ideas, simply because your neural pathways have decided that generalizing and stereotyping is a much faster way of doing business.
"Love your suit. Where'd you steal it?"
Of course, if you actually drink alcohol, your conscious inhibitions fall and suddenly you're screaming to a police officer about how Jews are secretly behind all of the world's wars. But since your brain is familiar with that process of inhibition, just being reminded of alcohol starts the process, if just a little tiny bit. You naturally become more relaxed, subconsciously remembering the no-holds-barred attitude you had the last time you were under the influence and screamed racial slurs through the entire game of beer pong.
As far as deceptions go, wearing knockoff luxury items is probably the most benign, because it's a completely victimless form of dishonestly. Well, aside from those poor kids in the sweatshop who have to stitch the fake handbags together when they could have been doing the exact same thing at a real Prada factory. Wearing replicas is like telling a little white lie to the world, insisting that you are a little wealthier, a little more polished, and a little more fashion-conscious. But, bizarrely, it also makes you a little less trustworthy, too. We don't mean that untrustworthy people tend to wear them -- we mean that we can stick the fake clothes on you and you'll become less honest.
To test it, researchers recruited young women and had them wear a pair of Chloe sunglasses ...
Via Celebrity Sunglasses Finder
And Kim Kardashian's skin suit.
... like those.
Half of them were told that the sunglasses were fake, while the other half were truthfully told that they were real. The women then had to fill out a complicated math test that couldn't possibly be finished in the given time.
When they were done, they had to score themselves on the honor system, and for every additional correct answer, they would be given more money. With that incentive, a whopping 70 percent of the women who thought they were wearing fake sunglasses cheated and scored themselves higher to get more cash. Of the women who knew that the glasses were real, only 30 percent cheated.
Let's not tell Chloe about that, though -- the ads will get weird.
This is another one of those experiments that prove how malleable most people are when it comes to their honesty -- give them a little nudge one way or the other, and you find out just how much wiggle room they have in their moral code. In this case, experts concluded that even when we don't notice it, just wearing fake products alone will subconsciously make us more comfortable with lying. With one duplicity already under our belt, it's easier to just say, "Oh, what's one more on the pile?"
It's easy to understand why people get short-tempered when they're unhappy. We all know firsthand that as we suffer through the discomfort of a headache, hunger, or lack of sleep, it doesn't take much provocation to turn us into raging assholes. But what about something as simple as a bad taste in your mouth? Is it possible for bitter food to turn us into bitter people?
According to scientists at the City University of New York, the answer is a resounding "Yes, and who the fuck are you to question us?"
"We're wearing safety goggles because we don't want to get your blood in our eyes."
Specifically, they found that bitter foods can make people more judgmental. In an effort to demonstrate how easy it is to turn us into righteous pricks, researchers gave participants a bitter drink, a sweet drink, or a glass of water. They then presented them with several grave scenarios that they had to judge. These included things like eating a dead dog and family members having sex with each other. What the researchers found was that the people who had to endure the bitter drink in their mouths were 27 percent more judgmental than those who drank water or a sweet drink.
So how can an unpleasant taste make us immediately jump onto our high horses? Because the taste of physical disgust is so profound to us that it can trigger our ideas of moral disgust. The two types of revulsion feel so similar that our minds attribute them to the same source. It makes sense -- if you say that something is disgusting, you can be talking about a mob that beat up a homeless man or a smelly trash can -- offending your morals and offending your five senses both trigger the same gut reaction. Zombies eat people, but also they are oozing, rotting, grunting piles of stinking meat -- they make great villains, because the disgust hits us on both levels.
It's the same exact principle with ventriloquists.
So the participants felt as though they weren't just hearing about incest, but that incest was infiltrating their taste buds as well. The takeaway here is that whenever you start feeling morally righteous, try brushing your teeth and see if it goes away before you try to shame anyone. Or you could continually ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, you aren't judging certain people more harshly purely because they gross you out.
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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