Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (and how to deal with it)

•23/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

Link: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_ariely_on_our_buggy_moral_code.html

Yet another interesting talk on Ted, this time about cheating. You can skip the first four and a half minutes if you want, they really aren’t relevant to the talk (unless you want to know how you should remove a bandaid!). A summary on Dan’s points:

  • It is more likely that a lot of people cheat a little than a few people cheat a lot
  • People are unsensitive to economic incentives for cheating, such as an increased possible gain and decreased chance of getting caught.
  • If reminded of morality, people cheat less
  • If others in their group are cheating, people cheat more
  • If others not in their group are cheating, people cheat less
  • The further removed people are from money, the more likely they are to cheat
  • If there is a deadline after which something is unusable, people are more likely to steal it

Dan explanation for the first point is that that people want to few good about themselves, but they still want to gain from cheating. If they cheat too much, then they can’t few good about themselves, but if they just cheat a little then they can benefit, and still feel good about themselves.

He doesn’t explain the other points though, and I also disagree with his explanation, so here’s what I think, from his observations:

  • His first two observations are the result of the balancing of possible gains of cheating against the probability of getting caught, the possible punishments and the unhappiness caused by the act of cheating. I emphasise this because in the video, Dan does not consider this an economic incentive.
  • Lots of people cheat a little because most people think that the gains brought by cheating is greater than the little chance of getting caught and the little punishment you’re going to get for stealing so little.  We will also not feel as bad about ourselves because we can self justify (its only a little, no one will miss it!).
  • On the otherhand, few people cheat a lot because they feel gains do not outvalue the chance of getting caught, the possible punishments, and the guilt that they will feel.
  • One thing to to note is that the rewards for cheating his experiment seems to have used goes only up to the hundreds. I theorize that that once the possible rewards is very high (perhaps a million), more people would cheat at high amounts, as they begin to view possible gains outweighing the possible costs. 
  • Another thing to note is that different people have different ways of judging all of these factors. For example, someone might have little guilt over cheating, and another might feel cheating is so bad, they will never ever cheat even if offered a billion dollars.
  • Not just the person comitting the crime, but the situation and the enviroment will so affect cheating patterns.
  • We can decrease cheating by decreasing perceived gain, increasing perceived chance of getting caught, punishment and unhappiness caused by cheating.
  • We can increase cheating by increasing perceived gain, decreasing perceived chance of getting caught, punishment and unhappiness caused by cheating.

So here’s what I think can be done to decrease/increase cheating:

Under gain:

  • Give little/much to gain from cheating

Under probability:

  • Create an impression that if someone cheats, they will/will not get caught

Under punishment:

  • Create stricter/more lenient punishments for cheating
  • Give/don’t give rewards for not cheating
  • Emphasize/deemphasize what can be lost by cheating

Under happiness:

  • Emphasize/deemphasize morality
  • Emphasize/deemphasize that what they are dealing with is important to others and or themselves
  • Emphasize success by not cheating/cheating
  • Emphasize a group mentality for not cheating/cheating
  • Emphasize (negatively/positively) other groups cheating
  • Keep/not keep others’ personal vendettas against you at a minimum
  • Avoid ticking clock scenarios, where if someone doesn’t cheat, something goes to waste.

Note that I use the word ‘cheat’ in a broad sense. It can be applied to something as backing out of a deal to outright betrayal. Also, this list is probably not exhaustive, because there are endless justifications a person can use to not feel bad when cheating. But at least if you follow the list, cheating can be minimized, or vide versa.


An interesting will

•22/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

Warning: Disturbing mental imagery

At first I thought it was a pretty clever way to get people to think about the points the author was trying to make, but when I saw the blanks below, I realised she (?) was serious. And slightly too dedicated to her (?) cause.

…You know, without the blanks and the ‘peta’ in the url, it would have been an excellent parody of the organization.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown

•21/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” is a quote Shakespeare’s Henry the IV. I can’t claim to have read the play, but I like the quote a lot, and decided to write a poem based on it. I can’t claim to be a good poet either, so if you hate bad poetry walk away. Fast.


The king sits atop his throne;

Watched by a thousand eyes,

Heard by a thousand ears.

He mourns the chains that bind him;

Every act made affecting countless lives,

Every word said choosing his peoples fates,

He cannot escape;

A thousand condemnations for every failure,

A thousand expectations for every success.

The king cannot bear;

His hair was once a crop of black,

Now it  had turned a sea of white.

His mind cannot bear;

Youthful optimism vanquished,

Replaced by the doubts he once scorned.

His heart cannot bear;

And one day it stopped beating,

Stopped by a knife in the chest.

Stopped by a knife in his hands.

Stopped by an unfulfilled wish,

To be but a peasant man.

But he was finally free.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized

•21/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

<object width=”400″ height=”225″><param name=”allowfullscreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always” /><param name=”movie” value=”http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3261363&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1&#8243; /><embed src=”http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=3261363&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=1&amp;show_byline=1&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=&amp;fullscreen=1&#8243; type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=”true” allowscriptaccess=”always” width=”400″ height=”225″></embed></object><br /><a href=”http://vimeo.com/3261363″>The Crisis of Credit Visualized</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/jonathanjarvis”>Jonathan Jarvis</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.

An awesome little video, if a little old, about the credit crisis. It quite well explained what happened (I tried wikipedia before and was blown over by the terms), and should be watched by anyone curious to know what happened but are not familiar with economics, like me.


•21/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

An amusing little music video on bacteria. Though I find the video a little repetitive, the tune is quite catchy.

Presidential Jeopardy

•21/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

Hilarious skit, and a must watch. Not much more to say.

Odourless space clothes

•21/03/2009 • Leave a Comment

Link: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/03/17/odorless-space-clothes-02.html

I caught this piece of news from an xkcd thread (http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=36491), and boy, is it awesome. Just look at this list of features:

  • Odor control 
  • Water asorbant
  • Insulating
  • Dries quickly
  • Flame-resistant
  • Anti-static 
  • Comfortable and attractive (Something even some current clothes fail to grasp)

I honestly cannot wait for the material used to become mainstream, and hopefully, cheap. On a bigger note, the opening post by ‘; Drop Database;– is interesting. If the water and energy needed in making the clothes are low enough, a lot of water and electricity can be saved by not washing them.

There would be some trouble due to a neccessary change in mindset, as it is difficult to get past the idea of unwashed = unclean, but I am almost certain this would be overcome quickly, thanks to how much effort would be saved by not having to wash stuff too often.