Review: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
Title: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves
Author: Ariely, Dan
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Sociology
Publisher / Year: Harper / 2012
Source: Signed by the author at Book Expo America.
Why I Read It: I really enjoyed the previous book I’ve read by Ariely, The Upside of Irrationality.
Date Read: 23/07/12
How much do you lie? How much do other people lie? What makes people lie the amount that they do? Ariely and a team of researchers have taken these questions to heart by researching the various aspects of honesty and cheating in a number of different ways, and in this book he shares their results. Rather than operating on the economic SMORC model (Simple Model of Rational Crime – that we all steal or cheat when we can see that the benefits outweigh the risks), honesty in real life is actually much more complex than that. The bad news that Ariely shares is that we all cheat to some extent. The good news that Ariely shares is that by knowing how and why we cheat, we can do a good job of limiting our opportunities or slipping points.
What I enjoy most about Ariely’s writing is how familiar he is with the subject, and that shows. Rather than a journalist writing about a topic he has gathered knowledge on, Ariely is an actual researcher who has hands on experience with many of the studies discussed. This gives a different perspective that I enjoy. His tone, as in his first book, is conversational and easy to read.
As an example of the writing style and tone, and the fun that Ariely has with the topic, one study Ariely mentions was by Mike Adams on the link between students asking for extensions because their grandmother has passed away and the grade of the student at midterm and exam time. He says:
In a paper exploring this sad connection, Adams speculates that the phenomenon is due to intrafamilial dynamics, which is to say, students’ grandmothers care so much about their grandchildren that they worry themselves to death over the outcome of exams. This would indeed explain why fatalities occur more frequently as the stakes rise, especially in cases where a student’s academic future is in peril. With this finding in mind, grandmothers – particularly those of failing students – should be closely monitored for signs of ill health during the weeks before and during finals.
Through his research, and that of others, the complex truth of honesty can be seen a little clearer. What was found is that something like an in-depth ethics course isn’t long-lasting like people wish. Instead we need daily reminders, we need to train our willpower muscle, we need to remember that everyone fudges a bit and try to decrease the amount through any means we can. A few tips from the book (you’ll have to read it in full to learn more about why these things matter!): remember the monetary value at all times of things, such as office paper, billable hours, or tokens of any kind; remind ourselves of ethical standards regularly (try hanging a sign); avoid conflicts of interest which have a large impact; and avoid fake products or illegal downloads (seriously, they’ve been proven to affect unrelated behaviour and thoughts).
Highly recommended to all who are interested in non-fiction on topics that relate to life. Very well written and well-researched. Engaging and interesting, keeping the reader learning and wanting to know more.