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

December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


December 16 • 6:00 AM

If You Get Confused Just Listen to the Music Play

Healing the brain with the Grateful Dead.


December 16 • 4:00 AM

Another Casualty of the Great Recession: Trust

Research from Britain finds people who were laid off from their jobs expressed lower levels of generalized trust.


December 15 • 4:00 PM

When Charter Schools Are Non-Profit in Name Only

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.


December 15 • 2:00 PM

No More Space Race

A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a much more globally collaborative project.


December 15 • 12:32 PM

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.


December 15 • 12:00 PM

Gluttony and Global Warming: We’re Eating Ourselves to a Warmer Planet

Forget your car. Our obsession with beef and dairy has a far more devastating effect on the climate.


Follow us


Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

A Word of Caution to the Holiday Deal-Makers

Repeat customers—with higher return rates and real bargain-hunting prowess—can have negative effects on a company’s net earnings.

Crowdfunding Works for Science

Scientists just need to put forth some effort.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

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