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Halfway through a task, we’re more likely to cheat

Halfway through a task, we’re more likely to cheat

When we cheat, we apparently do so in the middle of a series of events, rather than at the beginning or end. This extends even to religious observance, apparently. Wall Street Journal blogger Christopher Shea reports:

People tend to let their ethical guard down—and their standards for performance—during the middle of a series of events, a new study suggests.

In one experiment, 100 students proofread, one after the other, 10 different prose passages. Before each of the 10 sessions, they determined by flipping a coin whether they’d get a long one, featuring multiple errors, or a short one, with just a couple. Coin-flipping was unsupervised, but the researchers afterward analyzed the pattern of results for signs of cheating. In the middle sessions, but not the early or late ones, students got the “short” result a statistically improbable number of times — strong evidence the students lied to save themselves work. …

In another experiment, several dozen students were assigned to cut out five identical, intricate shapes, from cards, using scissors, one after the other. Raters judged the quality of the first, third, and fifth cutout—and found a pattern of sloppy work on number three: In the middle, people literally cut corners.

The results extended to religious observance. Two hundred students at Ben Gurion University, in Israel, were asked shortly after Hanukah, about their lighting of the Menorah: They were significantly more likely to light a candle on Day 1 and Day 8 of the eight-day holiday than the middle days. (Highly religious people lit the Menorah more often on Day 1 and Day 8 than other people, but slipped back toward the average on other days.)

Read Shea’s post here. Does this ring true for you?

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