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Culture & Religion

We Cheat for Certain People In Our Lives

Researchers have new evidence showing preference and “cheating” for those who are most like us, even when we don’t directly benefit.

Honesty and vulnerability are “in” these days. From the popularity of authors like Brené Brown to happenings of so-called “Honesty Conventions,” people are searching their inner selves for ways to come across with greater authenticity. In light of this trend, it’s intriguing to note the ways in which humans can be quite dishonest with each other, depending on who the two parties are.

A study of 900 students in Canada and China found that when students were given the chance to allocate a certain amount of money between two students — one from their own university, and another from the other university — they were likely to “cheat” and give more money to the student of the same university, rather than the student of the different university, even when instructed to do the opposite. Remarkably, the participant him or herself did not get any monetary personal gain by cheating.

The results point to a tendency for individuals to promote the people in their own social group at the expense of someone who is lesser known, and thereby not as much a part of that person’s social network. The bottom line is that loyalty often rules when it comes to allocating scarce resources.

To connect this study to some issues in the real world, it would be fascinating to see how these kinds of studies would or would not apply to conversations about fair hiring practices. For example, past research has shown that recruiters for elite banking, law, and consulting firms hire predominantly based on how “culturally similar to themselves” the applicant is to the person doing the hiring.

This preference to hire people who share similar backgrounds and interests seems a lot like the preferential practices of the initial study. And the consequences are pretty long-lived, given the kinds of salaries that can be made at some of the top firms over the years. It would certainly behoove us to know more about what’s behind hiring practices and “cheating” tendencies.

Header Image: Alex Wong / Staff


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