It has recently been discovered that creative thinking is associated with lying. Creativity is one of the most sought after qualities in today’s marketplace. It is associated with increased flexibility, problem solving, coping with day-to-day problems and changes. Our society depends on inventive thinking to move us forward. Most have never considered that creative thinking could have a downside.
Two American researchers from Harvard and Duke recently invented a number of creative experiments to test how creativity influences cheating, lying, and generally unethical behaviour.
Stealing at Work
To start, they went to a business and gave a short survey asking the staff about how much they stole (e.g., stealing office supplies, falsifying expense reports, etc.). They asked just under 100 employees in 17 different departments and they found that the people in the jobs that required more creativity stole more than those in other positions.
In this experiment they had people sit at a computer and select which side of the screen had more red dots. Sometimes it was clear that one side had more dots and other times it was harder to tell. They paid the participants for each response. However, they paid them more when they said the right side had more dots, being right or wrong didn’t matter.
Well, they found that people with a more creative personality selected the right side more often, especially when it was hard to tell which side had more dots. This meant that the creative people got paid more by the experimenter. They also found that more intelligence didn’t impact lying, only creativity was associated with biased responding.
Getting the Creative Juices Flowing
The third experiment was about getting people into a creative mindset and then seeing if it effected their behaviour. For this experiment they first had people do word problems. For half the subjects the words were picked at random, but the other half had word problems stuffed with creative words (e.g., innovation, novel, original, inventiveness, etc.).
The first thing they did was have the two groups solve a problem that requires a lot of creativity. The participants were given a candle, box of tacks, matches, and a cardboard wall. They had to attach the candle to the wall and light it without dripping wax. This is a difficult problem, but they found that the people who saw the creative words were much better at solving it. Getting their creative juices going had worked. By the way, the solution is to empty the tack box and then pin the box to the cardboard wall as a candle holder.
Right after trying to solve this problem, they gave the participants the red dot on the computer problem used in the last experiment. They found that the people in the creative mindset were more biased in their responding and made more money.
In their fourth and fifth experiment they wanted to see if creative people lied more because their creativity gave them greater skill in justifying their behaviour. To test this they had subjects roll dice for money. The higher the number they rolled the more money they got. However, they rolled the dice themselves and then wrote the number on a slip to give the experimenter, which gave them an opportunity to cheat.
In the first condition, the participants rolled the dice once and then reported the number. In the second condition, the participants were asked to roll the dice once (their score), and then roll it a few more times to make sure the dice were legitimate. Rolling the dice multiple times gave the participants more room to justify a lying. They might say to themselves, “That first roll doesn’t count, I’ll take the number from the second roll.”
They found that creative people lied more when they just rolled the dice once. When the participants rolled the dice multiple times everyone lied more. So it seems that everyone justifies lying when there is more room for that justification (multiple rolls of the dice), but creative people lie in situations that don’t give as much room for justification (one roll of the dice).
Everyone lies. However, we also want to feel good about ourselves so we engage in mental gymnastics to justify our lying in some way. We might say that we lied because we didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or because it is the cultural norm, or because your boss didn’t give you a raise you deserve that extra $50 on the expense report. Some of us seem to be better at these gymnastics than others. Creative people may be able to use their creativity to justify lying, cheating, or stealing in situations that others would consider obviously unethical. Every power seems to come with temptation, creativity seems to be no different. I guess the question is: Are you creative? – no lying.
Oakville Wellness Team
Gino, F., & Ariely, D. (2012). The dark side of creativity: Original thinkers can be more dishonest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 445-459.