The wear and tear of an average day makes people more likely to fudge the truth in the afternoon.
Our ability to exhibit self-control to avoid cheating or lying is significantly reduced over the course of a day, making us more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon than in the morning, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. "As ethics researchers, we had been running experiments examining various unethical behaviors, such as lying, stealing, and cheating," researchers Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard University and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business explain. "We noticed that experiments conducted in the morning seemed to systematically result in lower instances of unethical behavior."
This led the researchers to wonder: Is it easier to resist opportunities to lie, cheat, steal, and engage in other unethical behavior in the morning than in the afternoon?
Knowing that self-control can be depleted from a lack of rest and from making repeated decisions, Kouchacki and Smith wanted to examine whether normal activities during the day would be enough to deplete self-control and increase dishonest behavior.
In two experiments, college-age participants were shown various patterns of dots on a computer. For each pattern, they were asked to identify whether more dots were displayed on the left or right side of the screen.
Importantly, participants were not given money for getting correct answers, but were instead given money based on which side of the screen they determined had more dots; they were paid 10 times the amount for selecting the right over the left. Participants therefore had a financial incentive to select the right, even if there were unmistakably more dots on the left, which would be a case of clear cheating.