Pick Me!

A weblog by Laura Moncur


Our Buggy Moral Code

Filed under: General — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

This is an absolutely brilliant video from the TED conference by Dan Ariely. It is nearly 17 minutes long, but it is SO interesting!

Dan Ariely was burned over 70% of his body and the nurses insisted that pulling off the bandages quickly was the best way to treat him. They were wrong.

When Dan realized that we have many irrational things in our lives, he started looking at cheating, in particular, the Enron stock market fiasco. What he found was revolutionary.

His intuition about cheating was also very wrong. Rather than being affected by the amount you can benefit or the risk of being caught, it turns out that cheating is MUCH more complicated than we ever thought.

Here are the crib notes from the video:

  • A lot of people cheat, but they only cheat by a little bit.
  • When we remind people of their morality (either with the Ten Commandments or Honor Codes), they cheat less.
  • When we get a larger distance from cheating (i.e. stealing a pencil VS. stealing a dime from petty cash), people cheat more.
  • When we see cheating around us, particularly if it is done by someone in our immediate social group, we cheat more.

Because stocks and mortgage backed securities are so removed from money and “everyone” is doing it, it is very easy for financial disasters like Enron and the most recent banking crisis to happen.

Here is the best quote from the video:

It is very hard to believe that your intuition is wrong. We have very strong intuitions about all kinds of things, but unless we start testing those intuitions, we’re not going to do better. Just think how everything would be better if we just start doing more systematic experimentation of our intuitions.

The best seventeen minutes you’ll spend today will be watching this video from TED. Take the time to hear Dan Ariely out.


1 Comment »

  1. He mentioned, in the testing experiments, that by supposedly answering more questions, even when lying about it, that we would feel better about ourselves giving a higher number. I think it has more to do with how much better we want others to think about us. I mean, obviously, we know when we cheat. Reporting that we answered 4 questions, while in reality answering only 2 questions, cannot possibly give us a better feeling about ourselves on that raw level. Our expected result in reporting more questions answered would be that the person across the table from us, handing out tokens or cash or coins or cookies or whatever, would be that much more impressed with us.

    It could also be discussed that we judge ourselves based on the judgements of others about us. Their high/low opinion of us elevates/diminishes our own self opinion.

    It would be interesting to attempt to weight self-judgement vs. outside judgement through similar experiments.

    Comment by Steven Simmons — 12/31/2009 @ 1:37 pm

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