60-Second Mind

The Difference between Honesty and Cheating

A recent study finds that where we sign a document can influence our tendency to be honest or cheat. Christie Nicholson reports

We sign our names to various documents all the time. Some signatures seal a legal contract. Others pledge us to an action. Now a study finds that when and where someone sign a document can influence the likelihood of them being honest or cheating.

Scientists had people sign more than 13,000 auto insurance forms—one group signed at the top of the form, the other at the bottom. And those who signed at the top admitted to nearly 2,500 more miles of usage than those who signed at the bottom. Which translated into a $48 difference in annual premiums.

According to the researchers, because the top-signers put their names on the document before they were even tempted to fabricate information, they are less likely to act dishonestly. The study is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many people routinely deceive themselves to rationalize dishonest behavior. The $345-billion gap between what people should be paying in U.S. taxes and what they claim isn’t just due to chronic liars. It also depends on normally honest people stretching the truth. Perhaps having taxpayers sign their forms before filling them out would cut down on that stretching.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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