Are Creative People Dishonest, or Just Creative?

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 John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • robyn


    December 6th, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    Being a right brainer, I am going to say we are just a little more creative, not dishonest at all!

  • susannah edwards

    susannah edwards

    December 6th, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    As a creative person, I find that assumption quite offensive. We are not more likely to be dishonest and rationalize it simply because we’re creative! I prefer to use my creative bent in a more positive and productive way, thank you.

  • Roberta Lott

    Roberta Lott

    December 6th, 2011 at 5:50 PM

    @susannah: Before you get too hot under your artist’s smock there, remember the point makes perfect sense. It’s easier for a creative to be dishonest because of one simple advantage they have over a non-creative: imagination.

    Creatives have a superior imagination compared to the average joe and of course that’s going to be reflected in their lives, including how they tell white lies.

  • ChristinaMedina


    December 6th, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    Creatives can embellish any tales better than most, so why would lies be any different? That’s why so many are writers and poets. They live with one foot in a fantasy world and can see life from so many perspectives that it would make your head spin.

  • F.L.


    December 6th, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    I don’t buy the assumption that there’s a link between creativity and unethical behavior. Surely it comes down to how smart the individual is rather than how creative they are? The smartest ones won’t get caught behaving unethically.

  • Jordan


    December 7th, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    I am onboard with the others here.’
    I see very little correlation between creativity and dishonesty in my line of work.
    Feels like this is something that is just grasping for straws that are not there.

  • natalie


    December 8th, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    well,being dishonest does not have much to do with your creativity in my depends on a variety of things such as ethics and others.if a person decides to be dishonest,that is it.

    the only relation,which is not even direct could be this-a creative person would find better things to incorporate while lying or something like that,not that a creative person would be more prone to lying.

    like a creative person will have more colorful excuses to tell when he turns up late for work,not that he is lying because he is creative.

  • cindy


    February 11th, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    i find this is offensive! i’m crative and most of my friends are and fyi we are more honest then advrage joes… trust me we are. i know servral in the arts true that casting agent won’t call if you don’t make it is commen sense but is also actor have to be one that is responsible to ask.

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