Professor Dan Ariely performs an unusual experiment testing people’s moral code. In life, we encounter a load of cheaters. People who cheat in business, sports, school, relationships and so on. It’s a fact, everyone has cheated in one way or another. The mystery is when and why people cheat. Religions, schools, and society define moral codes for humans to live by. However, they’re often disregarded. It’s the “If no one finds out then it didn’t happen” mentality that tempts people to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Dan Ariely largely focuses on this mindset.

So far he’s found that people are willing to partake in low-grade cheating. They find a sweet spot between feeling good about themselves and breaking the rules. In other words, most people will only break the rules to the point where they can still be proud of the person they see in the mirror. Schools and universities are breeding grounds for breaking the rules, especially in the form of cheating. Copying someone’s homework or test questions don’t cause too much harm and actually can result in a lot of self-benefits. What Ariely wanted to know was, what would make students resist the urge to cheat. He knows why they would, how much they would but not why they wouldn’t. His method seems cliche at first but brought surprising results.

Ariely experimented with university students. Without diving into the details, he set up a situation where it was almost too easy for students to cheat. In fact, the students were tempted to cheat in the process, but what he asked them to do before making all the difference. Before the experiment task began, the students were asked to recall the Ten Commandments. Now, this experiment didn’t take place in a religious school. Among the students were a few atheists, religious people, and people born into religion but are not affiliated with it. No matter what the belief system was, people did not cheat. “The moment people thought about trying to recall the Ten Commandments, they stopped cheating,” Ariely explains.

In his Ted talk, the professor mentioned that even when self-proclaimed atheists are asked to swear on a bible that they won’t cheat, they do not. The cheating rates of people who knew Ten Commandments and people who could hardly recall any commandments were equal.

Incorporating the Ten Commandments in a university class is quite hard, but Ariely wanted to take his experiment to the next level. He took god out of the equation and attached a moral code to MIT student’s tasks. Again, students were placed in a situation where they were tempted to cheat. They had to read the moral code before going on to perform what was asked, and even in this situation, no cheating occurred. Ariely’s experiment gives great insight into the human mind; most people are willing to partake in low-grade rule breaking unless they are reminded of a moral code a moment before the opportunity to cheat.

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