Many official forms require that you sign your name at the bottom to signify that you have, to the best of your knowledge and ability, supplied honest information. But if you really want people to be honest, a recent study in PNAS suggests, it’s better to have them sign their names at the top of the form instead, before they fill in anything else.
Having people sign the top of a form made them less likely to cheat when reporting how much money they’d earned in a simple experiment, the researchers found, or when claiming travel expenses for their trip to the lab; people who signed in the usual spot at the bottom of the form were, statistically, just as likely to cheat as those who didn’t have to sign the form anywhere.
Most of us would consider ourselves honest people—but that doesn’t stop us from fudging the rules in favor of our team, giving an inflated report of our own performance, or buying knock-off accessories rather than the legit version. At Wired, Joanna Pearlstein talks to behavioral economist Dan Ariely about what leads us to lie, cheat, and steal—and rationalize our behavior to ourselves as not being so bad.
Wired: You write that people find it easier to rationalize stealing when they’re taking things rather than actual cash. You did an experiment where you left Coca-Colas in a dorm refrigerator along with a pile of dollar bills. People took the Cokes but left the cash. What’s going on there?