Friday, December 09, 2011

HT Mockingbird: For Creative People Cheating Comes Easier

"It's all about telling stories," Ariely explains, "so creative people are likely to be able to tell themselves better stories, which would allow them to cheat more on the one hand, but not feel worse about it on the other."

In all five of Gino and Ariely's experiments, creativity was clearly correlated with increased dishonesty. And though they are not yet fully able to demonstrate it, both Gino and Ariely feel like creativity increased dishonesty precisely because it allowed people to genuinely see credible rationalizations where others could not.

"If you are a creative person, all of a sudden you can go through the same amount of evidence and find many more links to justify the position that you want to have to start with."
But psychologist David Dunning of Cornell cautions this study might overemphasize the role of creativity in dishonesty. He points out that psychology has struggled for years to determine whether honesty is a function of a person's character or a function of the situations that people find themselves in.

And while he says that both are important, we often underestimate how much a situation influences what we do.

Stuff like this can make me want to be as uncreative as possible.  Could this impulse to create a story to tell yourself to let you cheat on the one hand but not feel bad about it on the other explain how some Christians insist that oral sex is actually the point of Song of Songs 2:3? The Song of Songs has many hapax legomena (unusual, rare word forms) and so a creative mind can exploit the obscurity and difficulty of the Hebrew, particularly in a pulpit setting, to spin out whatever ideas he or she wants to get in Song of Songs knowing that virtually no one is likely to dig up commentaries or consider whether alternate readings of Hebrew phrases might be relevant, let alone whether or not alternate approaches to interpreting the text as a whole might be undertaken. 

Thus a preacher could potentially make up a whole series of topical sermons all while claiming "I just preach what's in the Bible".  Thanks to the esoteric nature of the Hebrew poetics in Song of Songs, the majority of folks sitting in the seats at that church will just assume that pastor must be right, or not wrong enough to worry about it. But when OT scholars note that the Song of Songs, in its delicate celebration of eros and sexual pleasure, never manages to ever clearly indicate that the young lovers are formally wed maybe a preacher, when faced with either bluntly saying Song of Songs doesn't clearly indicate these loverbirds are married everywhere in the text where they're getting it on in bucolic locations, will feel that contriving to say that the lovers are married is the wiser move.  After all, if you try to go Old Testament and find out the Old Testament doesn't address fornication then it might seem wise and pragmatic to insist that in Song of Songs the young lovers are MARRIED, MARRIED, MARRIED.  And all of a sudden the pious bias that kicked in to make Song of Songs allegorical and have the breasts refer to Moses and Aaron paradoxically shows up to make sure Solomon and Abishag are married already.  As the above article notes, there are psychologists who point out creativity that leads to fabrication can be an indication of a dishonesty that springs from a character flaw but there are also fabrications that derive from a situation. 

Of course a single study does not prove an axiom, and in the social sciences it can't even establish a law (as though there are scientific laws in the social sciences but I trust you get the idea).  We should keep in mind that a single great big lie is one thing but that in situations like Enron it may be thousands of little, self-serving lies from thousands of people that cumulative lead to an Enron-like situation coming about.  I have been persuaded that if one is capable of self-deception then deceiving others becomes a matter of course.  I'm also reviewing the Clayface episodes in Batman: the animated series so I admit that there's a reason i've been mulling over this kind of stuff lately.

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