By Creation Ministries International, creation.com
In an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Why we lie", Dan Ariely, author of the new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, overturns popular modern-day ideas about morality.1 He recounts how experiments he and colleagues performed at the University of California showed conclusively that cheating does not correspond to the established rationalist model of human behaviour. That is, the idea that people lie and cheat if the perceived benefits (say, money) outweigh the costs (the possibility of getting caught and punished). Instead, Ariely's team found that simply reminding people of the 10 Commandments had a dramatic effect on their behaviour.
In one experiment, Ariely and his co-researchers split 450 participants into two groups. He recalls: "We asked half of them to recall the Ten Commandments and the other half to recall 10 books that they had read in high school. Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating. But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever."
No cheating whatsoever—a dramatic effect indeed. And that wasn't all. "We even reran the experiment on a group of self-declared atheists, asking them to swear on a Bible, and got the same no-cheating results yet again."
Ariely concludes: "This experiment has obvious implications for the real world. While ethics lectures and training seem to have little to no effect on people, reminders of morality—right at the point where people are making a decision—appear to have an outsize effect on behavior." Or more simply, in the TV series NCIS, the character Dr Donald 'Ducky' Mallard (played by David McCallum) was asked to explain the difference between ethics and morals. Ducky answered, "Well the ethical man knows he shouldn't cheat on his wife, whereas the moral man actually wouldn't."
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1. Why we lie, online.wsj.com, 26 May 2012.