Harvard Research Links Creativity and Cheating

Creative individuals are more likely to rationalize their behavior through ethical shortcuts, according to “The Dark Side of Creativity,” a new study by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Francesca Gino that shows a link between creativity and cheating.

The study featured several experiments designed to test the impact of creative thinking on ethical decision making. Participants took personality tests to determine their creativity and were then presented with opportunities to cheat in a variety of mediums, ranging from multiple choice tests to simple dice games. In every trial, Gino and Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke and Gino’s collaborator on the project, discovered a clear correlation between creative thinking and a willingness to cheat.

According to the study, simply encouraging individuals to think creatively increased dishonest behavior on multiple choice exams. The authors concluded that “creativity promoted more reasons and justifications to believe that cheating is morally appropriate.”

“They want to be moral, and they want to be seen as moral, but they succumb to the temptation of benefiting from cheating,” Gino said.

According to Gino, the study was inspired by cases of corporate corruption and the perception that innovative individuals are more prone to moral lapses.

Gino was especially fascinated by the media coverage of Bernard Madoff, who she said was described as “a sort of evil genius.”

Gino said she hopes the study can contribute a new dimension to the existing scientific literature about creativity, a field of study that has primarily focused on finding ways to increase creative thinking for the sake of its perceived benefits.

“Yes, it’s true [that creativity can be good],” she said. “But there are some potential side effects that should be considered.”

John “Jack” A. Ausick ’13, who is considering pursing a career in music, said the study mischaracterizes creative people.

“My understanding of the creative communities that I’ve been involved in is that they’re full of kind, honest people,” he said.

Still, Ausick said he recognizes the difference between artistic creativity and creativity in problem solving.

“It’s an interesting question as to whether creative people have more propensity towards dishonesty, or if they’re just better able to execute the dishonest tendencies that are in ordinary people,” he added.

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