Dishonesty and creativity: Two sides of the same coin?

February 20, 2014

New research shows that lying about performance on one task may increase creativity on a subsequent task by making people feel less bound by conventional rules.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"The common saying that 'rules are meant to be broken' is at the root of both creative performance and ," says lead researcher Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School. "Both creativity and dishonesty, in fact, involve rule breaking."

To examine the link between dishonesty and creativity, Gino and colleague Scott Wiltermuth of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California designed a series of experiments that allowed, and even sometimes encouraged, people to cheat.

In the first experiment, for example, participants were presented with a series of number matrices and were tasked with finding two numbers that added up to 10 in each matrix. They were told they would be compensated based on the number of matrices they had been able to solve and were asked to self-report the number they got correct. This setup allowed participants to inflate their own performance—what they didn't know was that the researchers were able to track their actual performance.

In a subsequent and supposedly unrelated task, the participants were presented with sets of three words (e.g., sore, shoulder, sweat) and were asked to come up with a fourth word (e.g., cold) that was related to each word in the set. The task, which taps a person's ability to identify words that are so-called "remote associates," is commonly used to measure .

Gino and Wiltermuth found that almost 59% of the participants cheated by inflating their performance on the matrices in the experiment.

And cheating on the matrices seemed to be associated with a boost to creative thinking—cheaters figured out more of the remote associates than those who didn't cheat.

Subsequent experiments provided further evidence for a link between dishonesty and creativity, revealing that participants showed higher levels of creative thinking according to various measures after they had been induced to cheat on an earlier task.

Additional data suggest that cheating may encourage subsequent creativity by priming to be less constrained by rules.

Previous work has focused on the factors that might lead to unethical behavior. In earlier research, Gino had found that encouraging out-of-the-box thinking can lead people toward more dishonest decisions when confronted with an ethical dilemma.

This research, however, focuses on the consequences of dishonesty:

"We turned the relationship upside down, in a sense," says Gino. "Our research raises the possibility that one of the reasons why dishonesty seems so widespread in today's society is that by acting dishonestly we become more creative—and this creativity may allow us to come up with original justifications for our immoral behavior and make us likely to keep crossing ethical boundaries."

Gino and Wiltermuth are following up on these findings by investigating how people respond when dishonesty and are combined in the form of "creative" cheating. Their initial findings suggest that people may give cheaters a pass if they cheat in particularly creative ways.

Explore further: Money may corrupt, but thinking about time can strengthen morality

More information: pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97614520714.abstract

Related Stories

Money may corrupt, but thinking about time can strengthen morality

December 10, 2013
Priming people to think about money makes them more likely to cheat, but priming them to think about time seems to strengthen their moral compass, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of ...

Creative excuses: Original thinkers more likely to cheat

November 28, 2011
Creative people are more likely to cheat than less creative people, possibly because this talent increases their ability to rationalize their actions, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Dirty deeds, deconstructed: Research says many cheaters not only do not feel remorse, they enjoy pulling a fast one

October 17, 2013
Whether it's an investment adviser bilking clients, an athlete taking performance-enhancing drugs, or a small-business owner underreporting his taxes, scofflaws seem to find ways to beat the system in virtually every arena.

Study examines the impact of moral preferences on ethical

December 12, 2013
Would you let other people's ethical preferences determine whether you act unethically on their behalf? Or would you instead rely on your own set of ethics?

Exercise spawns creative thinking

December 3, 2013
People who exercise regularly are better at creative thinking. This is the outcome of research by Leiden cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colato. She published an article on this subject in the scientific magazine Frontiers ...

Dishonest deeds lead to 'cheater's high,' as long as no one gets hurt, study finds

September 5, 2013
People who get away with cheating when they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty are more likely to feel upbeat than remorseful afterward, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.