According to a new study led by Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School, creative people tend to rationalize dishonest behavior more than less creative types. Creativity has been examined through a psychological lens for many years. The act of thinking creatively requires cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking. “Divergent thinking refers to the ability of individuals to develop original ideas and to envision multiple solutions to a given problem,” said Gino. “Cognitive flexibility, by contrast, describes the ability of individuals to restructure knowledge in multiple different ways depending on changing situational demands (i.e., the complexity of the situation. Typically operating together, divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility help people find creative solutions to difficult problems, which may be interpreted from different points of view.” The challenge arises when creative people are faced with a situation that will benefit them if they cheat or lie just a little. “When facing the opportunity to behave dishonestly, in fact, most people cheat, if only by a little bit, but not as much as they possibly could,” said Gino. For her study, she theorized that if creative people were put in such a situation, they would be more dishonest than non-creative individuals.
Gino and her colleagues conducted five separate experiments and found a strong relationship between dishonesty and creativity. “Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains, but creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks,” she said. “Our work also contributes to research on moral psychology and ethical decision making. Our findings are consistent with studies highlighting the importance of psychological factors in driving people’s dishonesty.” Gino added, “Our results suggest that there is a link between creativity and rationalization. To the extent that creativity allows people to more easily behave dishonestly and rationalize this behavior, creativity might be a more general driver of this type of dishonesty and play a useful role in understanding unethical behavior.”
Gino, F., & Ariely, D. (2011, November 28). The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can Be More Dishonest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026406
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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