When Are You More Likely to Be Caught Lying, Cheating or Stealing?

Results of a recent study from Harvard University may have a huge impact on companies and organizations that need to predict human behavior in order to be successful. This study has been able to show that immoral behavior, such as lying, cheating or stealing are much more likely to occur in the afternoon than in the morning.

“As ethics researchers, we had been running experiments examining various unethical behaviors, such as lying, stealing, and cheating,” lead author Maryam Kouchaki said in a press release. “We noticed that experiments conducted in the morning seemed to systematically result in lower instances of unethical behavior.”

Researchers became intrigued by the question of timing’s impact on moral behavior when they started to notice a pattern of behavior during other studies that were being conducted. So they decided to check it out.

In this particular study, college-age volunteers were asked to look at a computer screen full of dots. They then answered the question: are there more dots on the left or the right side of the screen? The students were paid according to the number of answers they submitted. But unbeknownst to them, the researchers paid significantly more money for “right screen” answers than left, whether or not it was true. Participants taking the survey in the morning (8 am to 12 noon) were more likely to answer honestly while those in the afternoon were much more likely to answer incorrectly, flat out lying, to collect a higher fee.

The implication of these findings can be applied in far reaching ways. For example, shoplifting from stores may be more common in the afternoon or evening than in the morning, if these results are to be believed. Also, with regard to addiction, could these findings mean that addicts are more likely to relapse or get themselves into trouble in the later parts of the day and what can be done about it? The study authors had these thoughts:

“For instance, organizations may need to be more vigilant about combating the unethical behavior of customers or employees in the afternoon than in the morning,” the researchers explained. “Whether you are personally trying to manage your own temptations, or you are a parent, teacher, or leader worried about the unethical behavior of others, our research suggests that it can be important to take something as seemingly mundane as the time of day into account.”


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