The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves

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The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with thought-provoking work to challenge our preconceptions about dishonesty and urge us to take an honest look at ourselves.

  • Does the chance of getting caught affect how likely we are to cheat?
  • How do companies pave the way for ...
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The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with thought-provoking work to challenge our preconceptions about dishonesty and urge us to take an honest look at ourselves.

  • Does the chance of getting caught affect how likely we are to cheat?
  • How do companies pave the way for dishonesty?
  • Does collaboration make us more honest or less so?
  • Does religion improve our honesty?

Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it's the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty.

Generally, we assume that cheating, like most other decisions, is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis. But Ariely argues, and then demonstrates, that it's actually the irrational forces that we don't take into account that often determine whether we behave ethically or not. For every Enron or political bribe, there are countless puffed résumés, hidden commissions, and knockoff purses. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely shows why some things are easier to lie about; how getting caught matters less than we think; and how business practices pave the way for unethical behavior, both intentionally and unintentionally. Ariely explores how unethical behavior works in the personal, professional, and political worlds, and how it affects all of us, even as we think of ourselves as having high moral standards.

But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. With compelling personal and academic findings, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others.

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  • The Honest Truth About Dishonesty
    The Honest Truth About Dishonesty  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"A little inaccuracy," a sage once said, "sometimes saves tons of explanation," but most of us don't need even this slender thread to rationalize our daily lies. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely (The Upside of Irrationality; Predictably Irrational) has devoted much of his career to studying the weird things that we human do. His new book maps out many separate continents of our dishonesty; from little fibs to cheating on tests to committing extramarital affairs to embarking on Madoff-sized Ponzi schemes. The explorations often lead to surprising conclusions, perhaps most notably about our extraordinary ability to delude ourselves.

Publishers Weekly
In this captivating and astute study, behavioral scientist and professor Ariely (Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions) turns his hand to the topic of human honesty, or lack thereof. Through a series of tests and experiments, Ariely breaks down economist Gary Becker’s Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC), which suggests that we evaluate situations using a rational calculation of the costs and benefits of engaging in dishonest behavior while maintaining a positive view of ourselves. Because Ariely believes this model to be incomplete, he energetically sets out to determine which forces (psychological, environmental, social) cause people to cheat, and then applies this improved understanding to doing something about dishonesty. In addition to his experimental subjects, he examines the behavior of golfers, pharmaceutical reps, finance professionals, and others. In his characteristic spry, cheerful style, Ariely delves deep into the conundrum of human (dis)honesty in the hopes of discovering ways to help us control our behavior and improve our outcomes. Agent: James Levine. (June)
Mehmet Oz
“Dan Ariely ingeniously and delightfully teases out how people balance truthfulness with cheating to create a reality out of wishful-blindness reality. You’ll develop a deeper understanding of your own personal ethics—and those of everybody you know.”
“The best-selling author’s creativity is evident throughout. . . . A lively tour through the impulses that cause many of us to cheat, the book offers especially keen insights into the ways in which we cut corners while still thinking of ourselves as moral people.”
“Through a remarkable series of experiments, Ariely presents a convincing case. . . . Required reading for politicians and Wall Street executives.”
Washington Post
“Ariely raises the bar for everyone. In the increasingly crowded field of popular cognitive science and behavioral economics, he writes with an unusual combination of verve and sagacity.”
David Brooks
“I thought [Ariely’s] book was an outstanding encapsulation of the good hearted and easygoing moral climate of the age.”
A.J. Jacobs
“Anyone who lies should read this book. And those who claim not to tell lies are liars. So they sould read this book too. This is a fascinating, learned, and funny book that will make you a better person.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“I was shocked at how prevalent mild cheating was and how much more harmful it can be, cumulatively, compared to outright fraud. This is Dan Ariely’s most interesting and most useful book.”
"The best-selling author’s creativity is evident throughout. . . . A lively tour through the impulses that cause many of us to cheat, the book offers especially keen insights into the ways in which we cut corners while still thinking of ourselves as moral people."
Library Journal
What motivates dishonesty? In his latest book, Ariely (psychology & behavioral economics, Duke Univ.; The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home) explains the psychological and economic factors that drive people to lie and cheat. He explores the rational cost-benefit forces that propel dishonesty, such as the amount of money to be gained, the probability of being caught, and conflicts of interest. To illustrate his argument, Ariely cites examples ranging from the Enron scandal to Ponzi schemes to owning fake designer bags. Along with a list of additional readings, he provides descriptions of research studies, including his own, to support his theories. VERDICT Ariely writes thoughtfully and his sense of humor is evident throughout the book. A quick and easy read, this is for anyone who wants to learn about the psychological and economic causes of dishonesty. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/11.]—Tina Chan, Penfield Lib., SUNY Oswego
Library Journal
It's not just Enron; we all cheat, from sneaking extra cookies to padding our résumés. Behavioral economist Ariely isn't here to scold us but to tell us why we cheat and how we can become more honest. With a 100,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews
Ariely (Psychology/Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; The Upside of Irrationality, 2010, etc.) explores how honest we are, how honest we think we are and every white lie in the middle. Conventional wisdom suggests that the greatest concentration of dishonest Americans can be found in the Washington, D.C., area. While it's true that our leaders provide us with egregious examples of dishonesty, a more nuanced look at how we define the concept reveals that our moral compasses may be less dependable than we would like to believe. Ariely's prior books regarding irrationality flow into his research around what motivates people's dishonesty. He argues against the idea that deciding whether or not to cheat is fueled by a cost/benefit analysis. He also finds that the notion of the decision-making process being largely internal is also inaccurate and shares examples of corporate culture's enabling of dishonesty. It's far simpler for the media to identify the Kenneth Lay in the story than to explain how hundreds of employees--unlikely to all be maliciously and intentionally undermining the financial security of thousands of people--could participate in an organizational structure that rewards the bending of the rules. Lawyers round up on billable hours, and those who stick to an honest assessment of how much they work are culled from the firm come evaluation time. Ariely also argues convincingly that society's move toward a cashless society is lessening the moral impact when a few people fudge the numbers slightly--it eventually adds up to billions of dollars in losses. The author dissects dishonesty in schools, relationships and workplaces and examines institutional and cultural safeguards and their levels of effectiveness. Ariely writes in a conversational tone one might associate with a popular teacher, providing readers with a working knowledge of what shapes our ethics--or lack thereof.
The Washington Post
Ariely raises the bar for everyone. In the increasingly crowded field of popular cognitive science and behavioral economics, he writes with an unusual combination of verve and sagacity. He asks us to remember our fallibility and irrationality, so that we might protect ourselves against our tendency to fool ourselves.
—Michael S. Roth
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062183590
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/5/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 650,538
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He is the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His work has been featured in many outlets, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and others. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, Sumi, and their two creative children, Amit and Neta.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Why Is Dishonesty So Interesting?

From Enron to our own misbehaviors

A fascination with cheating

Becker's parking problem and the birth of rational crime

Elderly volunteers and petty thieves

"Why behavioral economics and dishonesty? 1

Chapter 1 Testing the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC)

Get rich cheating

Tempting people to cheat, the measure of dishonesty

What we know versus what we think we know about dishonesty

Cheating when we can't get caught

Market vendors, cab drivers, and cheating the blind

Fishing and tall tales

Striking a balance between truth and cheating 11

Chapter 2 Fun with the Fudge Factor

Why some things are easier to steal than others

How companies pave the way for dishonesty

Token dishonesty

How pledges, commandments, honor codes, and paying with cash can support honesty

But lock your doors just the same

And a bit about religion, the IRS, and insurance companies 31

Chapter 2B Golf

Man versus himself

A four-inch lie

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to take the mulligan

Schrödinger's scorecard. 55

Chapter 3 Blinded by Our Own Motivations

Craze lines, tattoos, and how conflicts of interest distort our perception

How favors affect our choices

Why full disclosure and other policies aren't fully effective

Imagining less conflicted compensation

Disclosure and regulation are the answers-or not. 67

Chapter 4 Why We Blow It When We're Tired

Why we don't binge in the morning

Willpower: another limited resource

Judgment on an empty stomach

How flexing our cognitive and moral muscles can make us more dishonest

Self-depletion and a rational theory of temptation 97

Chapter 5 Why Wearing Fakes Makes Us Cheat More

The secret language of shoes

From ermine to Armani and the importance of signaling

Do knockoffs knock down our standards of honesty?

Can gateway fibs lead to monster lies?

When "what the hell" wreaks havoc

There's no such thing as one little white lie

Halting the downward spiral 117

Chapter 6 Cheating Ourselves

Claws and peacock tails

When answer keys tell us what we already knew

Overly optimistic IQ scores

The Center for Advanced Hindsight

Being Kubrick

War heroes and sports heroes who let us down

Helping ourselves to a better self-image 141

Chapter 7 Creativity and Dishonesty: We Are All Storytellers

The tales we tell ourselves and how we create stories we can believe

Why creative people are better liars

Redrawing the lines until we see what we want

When irritation spurs us onward

How thinking creatively can get us into trouble 163

Chapter 8 Cheating as an Infection: How We Catch the Dishonesty Germ

Catching the cheating bug

One bad apple really does spoil the barrel (unless that apple goes to the University of Pittsburgh)

How ambiguous rules + group dynamics = cultures of cheating

A possible road to ethical health 191

Chapter 9 Collaborative Cheating: Why Two Heads Aren't Necessarily Better than One

Lessons from an ambiguous boss

All eyes are on you: observation and cheating

Working together to cheat more?

Or keeping one another in line

Cheating charitably

Building trust and taking liberties

Playing well with others 217

Chapter 10 A Semioptimistic Ending: People Don't Cheat Enough!

Cheer up! Why we should not be too depressed by this book

True crime

Cultural differences in dishonesty

Politicians or bankers, who cheats more?

How can we improve our moral health? 237

Thanks 255

List of Collaborators 257

Notes 265

Bibliography and Additional Readings 267

Index 275

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Customer Reviews

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( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Think you are honest? Check this out!

    I love books that make me think. This highly entertaining and easy to understand book challenged my thinking all the way through. I told everyone about it everywhere I went since the studies were so fascinating and the documentation was so clear.
    I learned much from the book especially about how my creativity has served me so well all my life!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2012

    "Fudge... Factor"


    Informative and eye opening. After reading this book you cant help but look at your everyday life a little differently. Dan Ariely takes his time in explaining why we "fudge" the facts just enough so that we can get what we want... but still believe that we are not doing anything wrong. He does this in many creative ways, including fun anecdotes and interesting studies. At the end he quickly sums it all up and offers suggestions to society for the overall improvement of our moral compass. Quick read, not hard to follow for the most part.


    Many of the issues in this book are similar, and after 5 or six of them it can get a little repetitive. While some of the experiments hold very valid points, a great deal of the others feel as though they were thrown together on a whim. Many of the conclusions that Ariely draws from these haphazard experiments feel as though he somehow reached an EPIC LIFE CHANGING discovery... but the reader is not always sure how they got to such a SPECIFIC statement.


    If you are looking for an eye opening weekend book that you can discuss for a few hours with friends, this is the book for you. Using studies and social experiments (both industrial-strength and diluted) Dan Ariely shows us how we all have a little bit of the "fudge factor."


    "Facts are for people who lack the imagination to create their own truth." - Anonymous

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 25, 2012

    A Brief Summary and Review

    There is certainly no shortage of lying, cheating and corruption in our society today. At their worst, these phenomena do substantial damage to our communities and the people in them. Picking on the corporate world for just a moment, consider a few high-profile examples from the last decade: the scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, Haliburton, Kmart, Tyco, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and a host of banks in the financial crisis of 2008.

    If you are a particularly pessimistic person, you may think that people are fundamentally self-interested, and will engage in dishonest and corrupt behaviour so long as the potential benefits of this behaviour outweigh the possibility of being caught multiplied by the punishment involved (known as the Simple Model of Rational Crime or SMORC). On the other hand, if you are a particularly optimistic person, you may think that the lying and cheating that we see in our society is largely the result of a few bad apples in the bunch. Given that the way we attempt to curb cheating and corruption depends largely on which view we think is correct, we would do well if we could come up with a proper understanding of these tendencies, and under what circumstances they are either heightened or diminished. Over the past several years, the behavioural economist Dan Ariely, together with a few colleagues, has attempted to do just this--by way of bringing dishonesty into the science lab. Ariely reveals his findings in his new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves.

    In order to get at the truth, Ariely invited subjects into his lab and gave them tasks with monetary rewards, and where cheating was a very real and clear possibility. As you can tell from the title of the book, Ariely found that cheating was not in fact confined to a few bad apples, but was in fact very widespread. On the bright side, though, Ariely also found that the vast majority of his subjects did not cheat nearly as much as they could have, but instead confined themselves to just a little bit of cheating.

    Given his findings, Ariely concludes that most of us are torn between two conflicting impulses. On the one hand is the desire to get ahead by way of dishonesty, and on the other hand is the desire to nevertheless think of ourselves as genuinely honest and good people. Getting the best of the both worlds can be tricky, but we manage to do so by way of resorting to our trusty capacities of rationalization and self-deception. Of course, different people show different powers of rationalization and self-deception, and also different circumstances can alter the terms of the negotiation significantly for each of us, thus leading to more or less cheating.

    For instance, Ariely found that those who are especially creative are particularly good at rationalization and self-deception, and therefore tend to cheat more so than others. In addition, he also found that several factors influence the amount that people cheat in general. These factors included being reminded of one's morals; having one's resolve broken down by will-power depletion; having one's self-confidence artificially inflated; witnessing other people cheating; cheating to benefit others etc. A full and comprehensive summary of the main argument in the book, as well as many of the juicier details and anecdotes to be found therein, will be available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, on or before Monday, Jul

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2014

    Too many case studies

    I definitely thought the ideas were interesting...too many case studies drew the book out too much for my liking.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2012

    Chung lee


    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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