A humble coin toss experiment is all that it took to reveal a sinister undercurrent of deception lurking in workplaces everywhere – people leave their honesty at the door.
Researchers at the University of Oxford randomly contacted some 658 over the phone in their homes and asked them to flip a coin. Each participant was told they would receive $20 if their coin landed on tails and nothing if it landed on heads. Despite the fact that the individuals were the only ones to see the outcome, the results indicated a very high level of honesty. Just over half of all participants reported that the coin landed on heads.
In stark contrast however, when the same experiment was performed on office workers, about 75% of participants reported a tails up result. So what caused the honesty disparity?
The researchers said the results indicate an increased willingness to lie at work as opposed to in our own homes. “The fact that the financial incentive to lie was outweighed by the perceived cost of lying shows just how honest most people are when in their own homes. One theory is that being honest is at the core of how we want to perceive ourselves and is very important to our sense of self identity,” Dr Johannes Abeler said. Abeler added that one possible explanation is that from a very young age people are taught at home the social norms about what is right and wrong.
“This study has implications for policy-makers. For instance, if they want to catch those involved in fraudulent behaviour, perhaps the forms and questionnaires could be designed to reveal more about our personal lives and sense of self-identity,” Dr Abeler said. “Our experiments showed that if people plainly see that to lie in a given situation would be fraudulent, they shy away from it.”
According to the findings it’s when people are given ‘wriggle room’ that individuals start to convince themselves that their behaviour is not fraudulent and their sense of self is not in question.