How thieves streamline stealing

Distance makes thieves

Chefs cook, singers sing, sprinters sprint, and liars lie. So far the world seems well-ordered. But we know that even people who have not trained as Maître de Cuisine occasionally cook. And even if you don't have the voice of a Whitney Houston, you can do a little vocal performance every now and then - whether at a karaoke party or at home in the shower. We also sometimes run - to catch a bus driving off, for example - even though we are not Olympic sprinters. If all of this is true, what about our lying behavior?

"Would you steal something nice from this store and run away if you weren't caught?" Asked Dan Ariely at the grand opening of his sister Roni's party supplies store in Tel Aviv. The American-Israeli psychology professor is one of the most successful and creative behavioral economists in the world. In his most recent book Half the Truth Is the Best Lie: How We Deceive Others - And Most Of Ourselves, He explains how and why we all occasionally become liars.

Conscience “What is preventing you from stealing from this business right now is your guilty conscience. But that doesn't always work, ”explains Ariely. "We have the gift of rationalizing our dishonesty, and as long as we cheat a little, we can come up with reasonable-sounding explanations for it."

For example, Ariely asked his students at Duke University in North Carolina which of them were illegally downloading films, music or books from the Internet. “Almost 100 percent of them have done something like this before. Then I ask her who has remorse about it. And nobody lifts their arm. «On the contrary, the students come up with a lot of fantastic justifications, for example that they help the artists to spread their music, or that they defend themselves against the corrupt record companies or that they never bought the CD in the store anyway.

As long as we believe that what we have done can be portrayed as morally legitimate, we do not feel guilty. It is more about the norms and values ​​of society than about potential punishments or other negative consequences for oneself. "If we lie and cheat, it has nothing to do with a cost-benefit analysis," emphasizes Ariely. “I've talked to a lot of criminals, and none of them have worked out the long-term consequences of their actions. Rather, it is about the conflict between what we want and what we generally think is right. You can reconcile the two as long as you can reasonably justify it rationally. "

In experiments, the scientist proves that people are more inclined to do something forbidden if they classify the act as "less illegal" in advance. “For example, we did an experiment in a dormitory where we left a couple of Coca-Cola bottles and some cash lying around in public. Most passers-by took one of the bottles rather than the cash. Why? Because stealing drinks doesn't feel as wrong and bad as stealing money outright. It was one of my most worrying investigations, ”recalls Ariely.

abstract This result is particularly unsettling when you consider that our society is moving more and more away from cash today. We pay with credit cards, receive our salaries by bank transfer, we write checks. This increasing physical and psychological distance from money could lead to more and more frequent and more serious cases of fraud in the future. “The situation arises that the perpetrator is much less likely to feel the actual fraud.

I believe that people are cheating a lot more today than they used to be, and that is not because people have gotten so much worse, but because it is now much easier psychologically for us to rationalize such crimes. If you are not directly confronted with money, you can come up with many reasons and explanations to downplay such violations and continue to consider yourself a good person. So we'll have to be much more careful in the future, ”warns Ariely.

What we can do about it is to reduce this distance again as much as possible. This also applies to business situations. As Dan Ariely again tested experimentally, it helps, for example, to make employees aware that they are working for very specific individuals. Investment bankers could also display photos of their clients on their desktop.

code of honor It is also useful to have someone sign a code of honor in advance, "not to point out possible consequences," says the scientist, "but because, after an explicit promise not to lie, at least for a certain period of time it will be harder for a long time to justify one's own dishonest behavior in front of oneself without feeling like a bad person. "

That is why Ariely's advice is: "Instead of trying to eliminate such problems through punishment, we should concentrate more on educating society and on creating clear definitions of universal morals and then internalizing them."

Dan Ariely: "Half the truth is the best lie: How we deceive others - and ourselves most of all". Knaur, Munich 2012, 320 pp., € 19.99