September 17, 2013

Author and Scholar Ariely Discusses Honesty and Dishonesty at Academic Convocation

On Friday, September 13th, Emmanuel College officially opened the 2013-2014 academic year with the celebration of Academic Convocation in the Jean Yawkey Center Gymnasium. Members of the Class of 2014 donned their graduation robes for the first time in recognition of their status as seniors.

Dr. Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, delivered the keynote address, discussing honesty and dishonesty, our preconceptions and inclinations toward both, and the rational and irrational forces behind our decisions.  The talk reflected issues raised in his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves, which served as the College's ECReads summer reading selection for first-year students. Joyce De Leo, Vice President of Academic Affairs, welcomed the College community and Student Government Association President Katelyn Boudreau '14 gave the opening prayer. Emmanuel President Sr. Janet Eisner offered remarks, acknowledging each class and wishing the students, faculty and staff "a year of discovery, achievement and profound progress." Dr. Lenore Martin, Professor of Political Science, introduced Dr. Ariely.

The topic of Dr. Ariely's talk was timely, as the Emmanuel community continues campus-wide discussions on academic honesty and integrity. He began by asking for a show of hands from anyone who has ever told a lie- more hands were raised than not. He explained that nearly everyone lies on occasion, and that some lies are OK in certain social situations, but that our justifications for being dishonest in any circumstance are potentially worrisome.

He cited a number of reasons that lying or cheating increases, including the rationalizations that "everyone is doing it" and that it's acceptable to be dishonest in certain domains of life as long as one maintains high moral standards in others.

Conversely, there are a number of factors that decrease the chances of a person acting unethically, Ariely noted. One is the simple mention of religion, from asking study participants if they can recall the Ten Commandants before an experiment to requesting participants to swear on a Bible. Both believers and non-believers typically show the same increase in honest behavior.

Another factor is the concept of a "new page," which is similar to the absolution attained after confession to a priest. Ariely used the example of South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, during which victims could give statements about their experiences and violent offenders could request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution, granted their testimonies contained full disclosure of their crimes.

In general, dishonesty on both large and small scales has a significant impact on society. If everyone in a society is honest, then everyone benefits, Ariely said. People would be able to leave their doors unlocked. But if there is dishonesty in a society, everyone loses.

"Dishonesty in society is incredibly crucial," Ariely said. "Honesty is a precious public resource."

Dr. Ariely also holds appointments at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Department of Economics and the School of Medicine. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. Author of the New York Times bestsellers Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality and The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Dr. Ariely's work has been featured in many outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and others.