Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Further Evidence Links Creativity, Dishonesty

• November 26, 2012 • 2:58 PM

That was a brilliantly original idea you came up with. But, wait—where’s my wallet?

The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can Be More Dishonest is the title of a provocative paper published precisely one year ago. Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University presented evidence that highly creative people are more likely to engage in unethical activities, apparently because they are better at finding ways to justify such behavior.

While those who value creativity conceded the logic of that equation, many were reluctant to embrace that uncomfortable conclusion. But newly published research confirms those results, and adds a twist.

In a study conducted by a research team led by psychologist Melanie Beaussart of California State University, San Bernardino, people who behaved ethically also scored lower in creativity. What’s more, creativity scores were also poor among participants who considered themselves ethical—whether or not that perception fit with their actual behavior.

“The implications of these and other related findings challenge the prevailing idea of creativity as a benevolent construct,” Beaussart and her colleagues write in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity.

Their study featured 566 people, all college students who participated for extra credit. They first performed an abbreviated version of the Remote Associates Test, in which they were given three words (such as “falling,” “actor” and “dust”) and asked to come up with one word that tied them all together (in this case, “star”).

Participants were given 15 minutes to solve 15 such items, all of which required creative thinking. They then filled out a survey assessing their integrity, rating the likelihood they would, among other things, be “trusted to keep secrets,” or “lie to get myself out of trouble.”

Afterwards, they received a “thank you for participating” message, which was quickly supplanted by a fake “error” message that told them the study was not quite over. At that point, they could either continue to answer questions or, due to the “computer glitch,” declare they were finished and receive the extra credit without having actually completed the test.

“We found that people who passed the behavioral test of integrity were no different than those who failed the test when it came to their score on the self-described measure of integrity,” the researchers write. “Self-perceptions of morality were not related to actual honest behavior.”

However, self-perceptions of morality were related to creativity scores. While creativity was significantly higher in the group that cheated (confirming those previous results), it was significantly lower among people who rated themselves as high in integrity, whether or not they actually cheated.

This is, of course, one small study in a still-emerging field. But it suggests that creativity is dampened if you’re an actual honest person, or if you falsely perceive yourself as an honest person.

It all brings to mind Oscar Wilde’s assertion that, for someone whose driving force is aesthetics, ethics become less important. Perhaps creativity is boosted when you give yourself license to explore all your options—whether or not they follow traditional moral rules.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.