Honesty & Dishonesty

Why, when, and how are we dishonest?

Our website was made as a project for the class “Surprise Endings: Social Science and Literature” at Duke University taught by Professors Ariely and Davidson. Our group, composed of Arin, Christine, Darius, Sammy, and Woojin, covered the topic “Honesty and Dishonesty.”

Honesty & Dishonesty website

All of us, at some time or another, have been dishonest. “On my way” when we just get out of bed, “Looks great on you” when it doesn’t, or the age-old cookie from the cookie jar. But why are we dishonest? When do lie and when do we not? And how do we go about it? These are questions we investigated from five different, yet entwined, perspectives. First we took a look at what happens in our brains on a biological level when we lie. But dishonesty doesn’t just involve one brain. So, we then surveyed how dishonesty evolved in human societies, pitting one brain against others. As we moved into studying societies, we thought about how we consider dishonesty socially, and what social behaviors or characteristics enhance or subdue it. Meanwhile, we approached dishonesty from a calculating, economic approach—what goes into the equation when we make those choices—along with a game to demonstrate that. And lastly, we read and analyzed stories that we tell others about our dishonesty, in anticipation that this reflection delivers some answers. And so, along with our readings, we hope you get a thorough understanding of dishonesty from several different, yet complementary, fields of study.

Table of Contents


(I) Biological/Evolutionary basis of dishonesty:

(II) Social basis of dishonesty:

(III) Literary basis of dishonesty

(IV) Economic basis of dishonesty:

(V) Dan Ariely & Cathy Davison Video


After browsing through the pages and the readings, please comment for each of the four categories (biological & evolutionary, social, economic, and literary) on what was the most interesting, thought provoking, or alarming point. And then explain which category gave the most compelling explanation of our dishonesty, and any connections you made between the categories.

Responses can be posted on our class website project page.


89 responses to “Honesty & Dishonesty

  1. Dear Arin, Christine Wooji, Darius, and Sammy–Nice job! I’m very glad you pulled back from some of the big generalizations you made in your draft presentation to the class about “the brain” and about “evolution” that seemed speculative and one sided. This is more balanced, intriguing, interesting, rich, varied—and the ending is amusing and witty. Nice work, everyone! I hope you feel proud. Good luck to you all and stay in touch. Best, Cathy Davidson

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  8. I believe the social basis of dishonesty stems from the desire for people to avoid discrimination or victimization

  9. Well-argued points. I have been a victim of all of the discussed types of dishonesty at different points in my life

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  12. And then explain which category gave the most compelling explanation of our dishonesty, and any connections you made between the categories.

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