Does Being Creative Also Make You More Deceptive?

By Rebecca Jones

It might according to new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the latest research indicates a close link between dishonesty and creativity.

While creative people are often praised for their ability to think outside the box or adapt to new problems or situations this mental flexibility may make it easier for them to justify their own dishonest behavior.

According to the study’s authors: “Ethical dilemmas often require people to weigh two opposing forces: the desire to maximize self interest and the desire to maintain a positive view of oneself. Recent research has suggested that individuals tend to resolve this tension through self-serving rationalizations: they behave dishonestly enough to profit from their unethical behavior but honestly enough to maintain a positive self-concept as honest human beings.”

To conduct their study, researchers from Harvard and Duke universities conducted five separate research experiments, all of which tested participants for creativity, intelligence and honesty. Participants were given tests that were given quizzes and were told that there was a financial reward for correct answers. In one of the tests the participants were told to transfer their answers to a standardized bubble sheet. The researcher also explained that some of the answers had “accidentally” been photocopied onto the bubble sheet.

The participants who scored highest in creativity were found to be far more likely to cheat when they transferred their answers to the bubble sheet. Researchers also found in the course of the study that intelligence did not play a significant role in whether a participant would cheat or not. Those who scored high in intelligence but low in creativity were not particularly apt to cheat.

In another experiment, participants were asked to pick between two diagonal lines based on which one they thought contained more dots. They were also told that they would be paid 10 times more when they identified the right-hand side as having more dots. The people who scored highest in creativity were far more likely to favor the right-hand side.

The researchers acknowledge that adding a financial incentive to cheating may have limited the overall effectiveness of the study. A monetary reward could have prompted the dishonest behavior rather than the creative thinking abilities of the participants and they plan on doing further research to narrow their focus solely on creativity and the likelihood of cheating.

According to the authors: “The results from the current article indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas.”