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The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone

“Cheating is not driven by concerns about standing out. Rather, it shows that the sense of our own morality is connected to the amount of cheating we feel comfortable with. Essentially, we cheat up to the level that allows us to retain our self-image as reasonably honest individuals.” Dan Ariely: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty

We often lie. Sometimes we regard lies as normal and sometimes not. We feel small lies are okay while stealing and cheating is caused the massive breakdown of moral behavior. Often we regard lies as an act of cheating. That’s because we think we have not retained the line of retaining social norms of honest behavior. Therefore, lies have always been subjective. The way one person lies will and have always differed from another. The comparison comes from our own level of dishonesty and what we personally feel comfortable with.

The most important reason for our dishonesty is not being able to recognize our shortcomings. Understanding our behavior has always played a crucial role in our decision-making and rationalizing our actions. As Ariely states, “Honesty and dishonesty are based on a mixture of two very different types of motivation. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating (this is the rational economic motivation), while on the other, we want to be able to view ourselves as wonderful human beings (this is the psychological motivation).”

So the balance of getting something out of dishonestly that is economically beneficial has to align with sustaining the image of ourselves as wonderful individuals. Ariely states about studies done in different aspects where under several circumstances people tend to choose different kinds of lies and adopt different behaviors which almost always has a motivation in the background. Most importantly, the behaviors tend to be financially beneficial or satisfy their present state of mind.

In the book, he mentioned several studies out of which one was about the psychology of college students where their dorm had a few cola cans and a few one-dollar bills. The students did not touch the cash but drank the cola cans. So, the researchers inferred that having the cola cans wasn’t hurting their morality but stealing one-dollar bills might have.

So almost always, dishonesty is governed by personal motifs and self-image preservation. Often times we think we are good humans because we regard the act of our dishonesty as being okay and harmless. As Ariely points out, “The basic idea behind self-signaling is that despite what we tend to think, we don’t have a clear notion of who we are. We generally believe that we have a privileged view of our own preferences and character, but in reality, we don’t know ourselves that well. Instead, we observe ourselves in the same way we observe and judge the actions of other people-inferring who we are and what we like from our actions”



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Shreyoshi Chakraborti

Shreyoshi Chakraborti


I’m a PhD Student in Biochemistry and Structural Biology at Stony Brook University, Long Island, NY and a writer at heart. I hope to connect facts with stories.