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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