By Scott McKenzie
People like to think of themselves as more honest than the person sitting next to them. In practice, this cannot always be the case. Through two experiments, we investigated behavior in golf—a sport of self-governance, where the player is frequently confronted with opportunities to bend the rules and the score. Our research shows that people believe the average person will cheat more often than they themselves do, responding more strongly to both a decision’s perceived degree of dishonesty and the likelihood of being caught. We also found that altering the level of a competition did not change people’s beliefs about their dishonest behavior, even though cheating was directly related to competitiveness. In general, controlling for certain characteristics produces consistent predictions of reported cheating levels, and adding certain external circumstances drastically changed participants’ perceptions of dishonesty. People like to think of themselves as being in complete control of their decisions, but we will show that their perceptions can be changed without actually altering the terms of the decision.
Advisor: Dan Airely