How honest people cheat

One of the mottoes of the Copy Protection Technical Working Group (CPTWG) has always been “Keep honest people honest.” But do honest people stay honest?

I have read an old issue of Harvard Business Review (February 2008). There is an interesting paper from Dan Ariely. Its title is “How honest people cheat.” With his team, he experimented the capacity to cheat of thousands of “honest” people. They were paid for each successfully solved simple mathematical problems. There were 20 problems. The average number of solved problems was 4. In a second experiment, people had to report themselves the number of successful solutions. There was no way to verify the assertions (the paper with the answers had been shredded before). The average correct answers jumped to 6! Compared to the potential maximum of 20, an increase of 2 is really not large.

Other experiences showed that the risk of being caught did not affect the level of dishonesty. A more interesting observation, people were more dishonest when the reward was not directly monetary.

The rough conclusions were that most people when tempted are ready to be a little bit dishonest, but never will become fully dishonest. In front of non monetized cases, people are more ready to cheat because they can more easily “rationalize” or “justify” their cheatings. This last founding can partly explain why people may be ready to download an album through P2P and would not be ready to still it in a shop (even without risk). Probably we may have some similarity between demonetization and dematerialization.

Another conclusion. CPTWG was perhaps right when trying to Keep honest people honest.

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