New research highlights the dark side of creativity. Dan Ariely of Duke University and Francesca Gino of Harvard published a study that examined the link between creativity and dishonesty. They found that creative people are more likely to cheat than less creative people, possibly because creativity promotes the ability to justify behavior, which, in turn, leads to dishonest behavior.
“Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains, but creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks,” said researcher Francesca Gino.
The researchers conducted a series of five experiments to test their theory, using about 100 participants. After measuring creativity, the participants were presented with a test and were told to receive money for each question. For example, they were asked to answer a general knowledge quiz as best as they could and to circle their answers on the test paper. Afterwards, the researchers gave them a “bubble sheet” and asked the participants to transfer their answers to the sheet. To create the opportunity for cheating behavior, they explained that because of a copying error, the correct answers were lightly marked. The investigators also told the participants they would be paid more for more correct answers and led them to believe that they could cheat without detection when transferring their answers.
The results show that in all five the experiments, creativity was clearly correlated with increased dishonesty. The people who were more creative cheated to a higher degree. According to the researchers, creativity allowed people to genuinely see credible rationalizations where others could not.
“It’s all about telling stories,” Ariely explains, “so creative people are likely to be able to tell themselves better stories, which would allow them to cheat more on the one hand, but not feel worse about it on the other.”
Gino F, & Ariely D (2011). The dark side of creativity: Original thinkers can be more dishonest. Journal of personality and social psychology PMID: 22121888