Dan Ariely’s Animated Talk Reveals How and Why We’re All Dishonest

If it is the bulk of the world’s cheating, stealing, and deception you seek, says Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics Dan Ariely, look not to the heinous acts of individual villains; look to the countless dishonest acts committed daily by the rest of humanity. “The magnitude of dishonesty we see in society is by good people who think they’re being good but are in fact cheating just a little bit,” so we learn in the lecture above (find the complete lecture here). Ariely speaks these words, but they also appear written onscreen by a pen-wielding hand that rapidly summarizes and (literally) illustrates Ariely’s points as he makes them. This unusual style of animation appears in a whole series of videos from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce called RSA Animate. These have, the RSA claims, “revolutionised the field of knowledge visualisation whilst spreading the most important ideas of our time.” Revolutionary or not, The Truth About Dishonesty makes, in under twelve minutes, the kind of observations that let you see reality just a little more clearly.

“Human beings basically try to do two things at the same time,” Ariely says and the hand writes. “On one hand, we want to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, we want to benefit from dishonesty.” This dilemma would seem to allow no compromise — you’re either honest or you’re dishonest, right? — but Ariely finds that most of us instinctively strive for the gray area between: “Thanks to our flexible cognitive psychology and our ability to rationalize our actions, we could do both.” We then hear and see how, if the proper rationalization happens and the instances of cheating remain minor and distanced from their effects, everybody acts with a mixture of honesty and dishonesty. (But sometimes the “what the hell effect” — the lecture’s finest coinage — kicks in, where people temporarily stop considering themselves good and proceed to act freely.) Ariely brings up the example, ripped from the headlines, of bankers and hedge fund managers who, distanced by vast corporate structures and elaborate mathematics from those whom their actions concretly affect. The hand draws a caricature of Oscar Wilde, then writes the most appropriate quote beside it: “Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.”

via Brain Pickings

More RSA Talks:

Renata Salecl: The Paradox of Choice

Sir Ken Robinson: A Creative Education

Good Capitalist Karma: Zizek Animated

Smile or Die: The Perils of Positive Psychology

Steven Pinker: How Innuendo Makes Things Work

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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