Daily Video

May 21, 2009

Economist Studies Why People Cheat

Is cheating wrong? Are some types of cheating worse than others? In this segment, NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman talks to a behavioral economist who studies what influences cheating and who cheats more than others.

Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University, has been on the NewsHour before to talk about how consumers are similar to dogs conditioned by an electric shock. Ariely says that humans act irrationally in the market, an idea not shared by many standard economists.

Ariely recently has been studying the financial crisis and how incentives to cheat and lack of trust have brought real problems to the American economy.

He argues that the primary problem with bankers who helped cause the current recession is that they were able to separate themselves from actual dollars and instead were dealing with more abstract financial tools.

Ariely found in his study that bankers in New York are the only group that cheats more than other groups – because it is easier for them to feel ok about cheating with stock numbers than it does for average people to steal cash.


“We feel betrayed. We want revenge. There’s anger, and there’s a deep lack of trust in the banking system. And unless we think about how to fix that trust, nothing is going to actually move forward.” – Dan Ariely, behavioral economist

“We check New York bankers, they are the only group that cheats more, and much more, by about twice as much.” – Dan Ariely

“As we move to a society where we have less and less cash and more and more symbolic transactions, it might actually become easier and easier for people to be dishonest and still think of themselves as being honest.” – Dan Ariely

Warm Up Questions

1. Why do people cheat?

2. Would you be more likely to take a soda that didn’t belong to you or cash that didn’t belong to you? Why?

Discussion Questions

1. Describe a time that you irrationally made a decision about money.

2. What did you think about Ariely’s Coke versus dollar bills experiment? Why are people more likely to steal a Coke than a dollar?

3. When Ariely describes how bankers find it easier to cheat and feel good about themselves, does it remind you of other examples? In what other ways do people convince themselves that cheating isn’t wrong?

4. What can be done to encourage moral behavior in regards to money and banking?

Additional Resources

Read the transcript

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