To Our Minds, Honesty Comes in Shades of Gray

Human behavior does not follow strict cost-benefit analyses, especially when it comes to being honest. Psychologist Dan Ariely explains the more complex rules individuals follow. 

What's the Latest Development?


Social psychologist Dan Ariely has conducted a number of experiments that illuminate our concept of honesty and demonstrate its fascinating limits. While economists and politicians have long taken for granted that being honest is the result of cost-benefit calculations, such that harsher punishments would deter people from committing crime, we now understand that there is an internal moral compass which obeys more complex rules. People are given over to dishonesty when they justify their own bad behavior by bending rules and resigning themselves to amorality. 

What's the Big Idea?

But surely being honest all the time is undesirable. Our concept of politeness, for example, often implies concealing or coloring the external truth. So some of our values are not always consistent with honesty, and that's okay, says Ariely. "The problem arises when this becomes commercial rather than personal. If you’re an accountant and you have an internal truth of what’s happening in your company and you have an external truth, you can see where this goes. Honesty is a complex and tricky thing, and we don’t want to be honest all the time."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Water may be an inevitable result of the process that forms rocky planets

New research identifies an unexpected source for some of earth's water.

Surprising Science
  • A lot of Earth's water is asteroidal in origin, but some of it may come from dissolved solar nebula gas.
  • Our planet hides majority of its water inside: two oceans in the mantle and 4–5 in the core.
  • New reason to suspect that water is abundant throughout the universe.
Keep reading Show less