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Truth Be Told: Are Some of Us Programmed for Honesty?

Crossed Fingers

The rule of thumb is “you break it, you buy it”—but what if no one witnessed it? And instead of doing the honest thing—notifying a store clerk or manager of the broken item and then offering to pay for it—you walked away without any repercussions? Research suggests some of us are actually wired to be deceitful when it’s personally advantageous.


It’s easy to picture plenty of situations where a seemingly harmless white lie may lead to short-term gains. But in a lot of those cases, dishonesty can negatively affect those around us. Think of kids who resort to the sometimes dishonest response “I didn’t do it!” While one child may get off scot free, another may unfairly face the blame. Or, if you fib and tell your mom her apple pie is perfect to avoid hurting her feelings, she may not work to improve the recipe. Moral of the story? Deceit can affect more than one person.


We’ve put the honor system to the test, too. Over the last five years, we’ve traveled around the country offering beverages in exchange for $1, as part of our National Honesty Index social experiment. Of the 60,000 people who participated, 91-96 percent paid the dollar though they could have easily stolen a beverage without any ramifications.

So what do you think? Has self-interest ever stood between you and doing the right thing? Do you think some people are hard-wired to be dishonest? Sound off in the comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “Truth Be Told: Are Some of Us Programmed for Honesty?

  1. I am ashamed to say ive been dishonest in the past. Most of the time, yes. But not all the time. I'm ashamed to admit this.

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