The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely — Book Summary and Review

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone- Especially Ourselves

Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist and the New York Times bestselling author, examines the contradictory forces that drive us to cheat and keep us honest, in this groundbreaking look at the way we behave: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.

3.93/5.00 (12,276 ratings by Goodreads)


We often lie, especially to ourselves

According to Dan Ariely, most of us, including myself, believe that we’re good, honest people, but unfortunately, we often cheat, not at big things hopefully. But we do cheat. And this book explores why we might be dishonest.

I love reading the book, especially at the idea that I most likely to lie to myself the most. It is rather enlightening. Let us go into my summary of the book.


The Few Bad Apples

The few bad apples, or so, are often believed to be the case responsible for most of the cheating in the world. But in truth, the problem is actually more widespread.

In truth we all cheat, we often too proud to admit.

For example, given in the book

A gift shop located in Washington DC arts centre, which was run like a traditional “lemonade stand”, using a cash box instead of a cash register. Business was good, but an average of $150,000 would go missing each year.

As any organization would, they searched for the one responsible and eventually finding and firing the employee who they thought responsible for the missing cash. But, curiously, the organization still found the money to be missing.

Hence, the organization resort to a much more logical solution, they set up an inventory system with price list and sales records. It worked — from that point onwards, the money stop leaking. I wonder if they re-hire the person they thought responsible for the missing money.

Why? It turned out that the problem was not one thief, but rater many well-meaning volunteers who each took just a small amount of cash.

If it were just a few bad apples were responsible for most of the cheating in the world, the problem might be reasonably easy to solve. However, most of the world’s deception is actually made up of different and subtle kinds of a dishonest act that each of us regularly practices.

Rational thinking cheating?

How do we decide to cheat or not to cheat? Well, most of the time, the notion of cheating would be based on a rational decision based on a few factors such as

  • How much can I gain from cheating?
  • What’s the odds of getting caught?
  • What’s the worst possible punishment?

Hence, by weighing the trade-off, we are expected to decide whether it would be in our interest to cheat. But, most of the time, we misbehave from this expected notion.

The book suggests that the odds of being caught had no influence on our decision to cheat.


How does morality factor in?

We learned from the book that people don’t necessarily cheat more just because they’re given the opportunity. So what stops us from cheating as much as possible?

Here’s where morality factor in — our morality is the show stopper. We don’t cheat as much when we have a high moral code. The book actually gave an interesting example, whereby the amount of cheating decreased drastically when they were asked to recall the Ten Commandments.

Exhaustion makes us prone to lie and cheat

Imagine coming home from a busy workday — exhausted, grumpy and hungry. We tend to eat out, or some might say take-out. There’s when diet goes to die.

When we use our brain intensively, causing cognitive strain — our ego depleted and hence, we’re easily tempted. The book shares a few interesting experiments on cognitive strain whereby people tend to select the unhealthy option when they were high on the cognitive strain.

Furthermore, the cognitive strain not only increases the likelihood of succumbing to temptation — it would cause people to cheat more. In fact, the amount of cheating in the first group was three times as high in the cognitive strained person.


The effect of wearing fakes designer products

I personally have no interest in designer clothing, but if any of you does, a significant number of us might have worn fake designer clothing. The book shares some experimental evidence shows a correlation between wearing fakes and the likelihood of performing other dishonest acts. The results show that committing one dishonest act, in this case wearing fake products, increases the chances of us committing another cheat.

Furthermore, wearing fakes can even make us more suspicious of others. It is indeed, a double-edged dagger.

Peer pressure

Cheating might be more apparent when it is socially acceptable.

Concluding Remark

Personally, I admire Dan Ariely books and I’ve got them all.

The key message in this book — cheating is a norm, and most of the reason why we cheat is not rational. However, most of the time, we are not aware of this since, in our own personal view, we haven’t cheated.

Therefore, by learning about the psychology of cheating, we enable ourselves to control dishonest behaviour in others, and most importantly in ourselves.

I love this book, and I implore you to read it as well. I rated the book at 8/10. It is a wonderful read indeed.

If you’re interested, I’ve done another summary on Dan Ariely book, Predictably Irrational. Click here to read them.



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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