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Friday, October 26, 2012

Ariely: More dishonesty means . . . more dishonesty

Still flipping through this book. On pp. 170-77 he finds what seems to be a rather flawed correlation between "creativity" and "dishonesty."  He thinks he is being "creative" by measuring people's creativity in three different ways, but all of them are essentially self-assessments.  Since most people view "creativity" as a positive trait, chances are the people who score highest on this measure of creativity will also be the more dishonest people among his subjects.

Judge for yourself:  He used three different criteria  for determining whether people were creative, all based on responses to a set of questions, many of which were irrelevant (to obscure the purpose of the questioning).  People judged as creative were people most likely to (1) describe themselves as "insightful, inventive, resourceful, unconventional, and so on," (2) report frequent engagement in activities that the testers considered requiring "creativity" (out of a list of 77 activities, including "bowling, skiing, skydiving, painting and writing"); and (3) identify with statements like "I have a lot of creative ideas," "I like to do things in an original way," etc.

If it were that easy to judge "creativity" (or even define it), the world would be a different place.

In the end, he finds that the people who judged themselves "creative" were more likely to "cheat" in experiments where they got extra cash for cheating.

And from this, he believes he's shown a "correlation" between creativity and cheating.  He then goes on to find an actual "link" between creativity and cheating by showing that "intelligence" (as measured by a separate test) is not linked to cheating.

He thinks that more creative people are better able to tell themselves stories that help to rationalize their cheating behavior.

But really, all he showed was a correlation between people describing themselves as creative, and dishonesty.  If the act of self-describing oneself that way was itself dishonest, he's basically shown that "dishonesty" = "dishonesty."  In other words, his "creativity" test itself was probably almost as good a measure of dishonesty as the dot test or the matrix test or whatever test he used to determine actual dishonesty.  (I say almost because there are doubtless some honest creative people who would describe themselves as creative.).

n.b.  I wonder whether he thinks skydiving is an activity that calls for creativity.  My thought it that it would be the exact opposite -- you better not be "original" or "unconventional" when you pack that parachute!

(I also resent the idea that the kind of activities that someone engages in somehow reflect how "creative" that person is.  Your activities depend on a whole range of things that have nothing to do with creativity.)

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