Self Help

12 Rules for Life An Antidote to Chaos - Jordan B. Peterson

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Matheus Puppe

· 64 min read

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The search results provide an overview of Jordan Peterson’s work and ideas, as well as insights into the evolutionary origins of human social behavior and the symbolic significance of order and chaos. Key points include:

  • Peterson’s work explores the psychological appeal of ancient stories and myths, and how they can provide moral guidance in the face of modern moral relativism. He is deeply concerned with understanding the capacity for evil in humanity, as exemplified by totalitarian regimes.
  • The search results discuss how dominance hierarchies and social status are deeply ingrained in nature, as observed in the behavior of lobsters. These hierarchies shape brain structure and function, influencing emotions, behaviors, and health outcomes in both humans and animals.
  • The passage also examines how the fundamental human experiences of order and chaos, often symbolized as masculine and feminine, are reflected in cultural and religious narratives. Maintaining a balance between order and chaos is presented as essential for growth and meaning.
  • Overall, the search results provide a multifaceted exploration of Peterson’s ideas and their connections to evolutionary psychology, mythology, and the human condition.




  • Jordan Peterson became friends with the author (a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst). They bonded over their shared interests in literature, philosophy, psychology, and understanding human behavior and evil.

  • Peterson’s home was filled with paintings of Lenin and early Communists commissioned by the USSR. This collection expressed Peterson’s concern about humanity’s capacity for evil in the name of excellent and psychological self-deception.

  • Peterson’s first book, Maps of Meaning, sought to understand how people and the human brain deal with uncertainty and the unknown. It combined insights from evolution, neuroscience, mythology, philosophy, and literature to map how cultures create stories to grapple with chaos.

  • Maps of Meaning warned about the dangers of ideology - simple ideas disguised as complete explanations that promote utopian remedies. Ideologues pretend to know how to fix the world without first addressing their inner chaos.

  • Peterson was deeply troubled by totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and sought to understand how such immense evils could occur. He read extensively about the Holocaust and gulag system.

  • Despite later accusations, the author vouched that Peterson’s understanding of evil, based on his research and concern for humanity, ruled out his notion of being a right-wing bigot.

  • The author studied political science but became dissatisfied with its explanations of totalitarianism, Nazism, and prejudice. He supplemented his studies with psychology, psychoanalysis, psychiatry, and the brain.

  • Jordan Peterson had similar intellectual interests and parallel study paths for similar reasons. They had in-depth discussions about essential questions, though they did not sometimes disagree on answers.

  • The author attended Peterson’s university lectures, which were packed. Peterson was a brilliant and passionate speaker who could summarize scientific studies and help students reflect on life’s seriousness.

  • Peterson taught how evolution helps explain the psychological appeal of ancient stories like the Bible. He addressed suffering in life frankly rather than naively avoiding it.

  • Peterson discussed hero myths showing the universal need to face challenges, risk death of the old self, and be reborn - requiring courage. His courageous public stand later exemplified this.

  • Younger generations seek structure and rules due to being taught that morality is relative yet tolerance is paramount, leaving them without practical wisdom to guide living virtuously. Peterson addresses this deep need with his emphasis on cultivating virtue through voluntarily adopted rules/principles.

  • Modern moral relativism has contributed to uncertainty, nihilism, and the rise of absolutist ideologies that claim to have all the answers. Many people cannot tolerate a values vacuum and need moral guidance.

  • Ancient Greeks did not react with despair like modern relativists when they discovered different moral codes in other cultures. Instead, they pursued philosophy to reason about these differences and seek timeless principles of virtue and good living.

  • Aristotle argued that though specific rules vary, all societies generate moral rules and structure because humans are innately concerned with morality. Pretending otherwise deceives oneself.

  • The author aims to develop guidelines, not exhaustive rules, by integrating modern knowledge with enduring wisdom from our most significant thinkers and stories. The foremost guideline is taking responsibility for one’s own life.

  • These rules may be demanding but stretch one to their limits. Pursuing superior ideals gives life meaning, even if the ideals are uncertain. Deep down, people want to feel their lives are judged against ideals.

So, in summary, the passage critiques modern moral relativism and argues for developing guidelines/rules for living well by reasonably considering both ancient wisdom and modern knowledge, focusing on individual responsibility.

  • The author wrote a list of “rules for living” on Quora that received an unexpectedly large amount of attention, with over 120,000 views and 2,300 upvotes. This struck a nerve with readers.

  • He hypothesizes that the list was successful because it balanced the familiar with the unfamiliar, provided structure, and people like lists. Students and readers responded positively.

  • The success of this list led a literary agent to contact the author about writing a book. He proposed writing a chapter on each rule.

  • The author had previously written a dense academic book called Maps of Meaning about myths, order/chaos, and beliefs. He taught related concepts at Harvard and the University of Toronto.

  • In 2013, he began posting lecture videos online which received over a million views. This increased attention, both positive and negative.

  • The author found he had more to say on each rule than for the new book initially planned, drawing from his extensive research and background.

  • Shared beliefs simplify the world for people by making others predictable and allowing cooperation, even in the face of existential threats like the Cold War nuclear standoff. Maintaining shared beliefs and expectations is essential.

  • Shared belief systems and cultural values provide order and predictability in social interactions, which reduces uncertainty and negative emotions. People will fight to maintain these shared beliefs and expectations.

  • When relationships or social contracts are violated through betrayal, it causes intense negative emotions like rage, anxiety, guilt, and dread. This inevitably leads to conflict.

  • Cultural values and meaning provide goals and a sense of purpose, which generates positive emotions. People experience aimlessness, anxiety, and nihilism without shared values and meaning.

  • However, different cultural belief systems can also lead to group conflict. Abandoning values means chaos, while clinging to rigid values increases conflict. This dilemma traps humanity between disorder and strife.

  • The dreams suggests the individual must accept responsibility at the “center” - the point of suffering, death, and transformation. One can find meaning individually rather than relying entirely on group beliefs to avoid chaos and reduce between-group conflict.

  • The 12 rules aim to provide principles to guide behavior along the narrow path between order and chaos so people can shoulder responsibility, tell the truth, cooperate, and address what needs repair - thereby justifying life and reducing suffering in the world. Proper living may help humanity withstand knowledge of its fragility and avoid extremes like totalitarianism or nihilism.

  • Lobsters have large, easily observable neurons, allowing scientists to map their neural circuitry accurately. This helps understand brain structure/function in more complex animals like humans.

  • Lobsters need shelter/territory to hunt, gather food, and raise families. With limited resources, this can cause territorial disputes between lobsters.

  • Like other animals, lobsters have evolved behaviors to establish dominance hierarchies and territory without severe injury.

  • When lobsters encounter each other exploring new territory, they engage in ritualized “boxing” behaviors - waving claws and spraying chemicals about size/health. This allows one to back down without fighting if it is smaller/weaker.

  • Territorial disputes are essential to natural selection, as defending prime resources influences survival and reproduction. Behaviors that resolve conflicts with the least cost are advantageous.

The passage discusses how lobsters, though simple nervous systems, display complex behavior balancing territorial needs with avoiding escalated conflicts that could injure competitors unnecessarily. Ritualized signaling allows resolving disputes without fighting in many cases.

  • Lobsters resolve disputes and establish dominance through a hierarchy with four levels of escalating combat. The goal is to establish a clear winner and loser with minimal injury.

  • Level 1 is an exchange of smells. Level 2 is ritualized confrontations without harm. Level 3 involves grappling and attempts to flip the other on its back. Level 4 is all-out combat where body parts can be torn off.

  • Defeated lobsters experience changes in brain chemistry - higher octopamine and lower serotonin. This makes them skittish, submissive and unlikely to initiate further fights.

  • There is an unequal distribution of power/resources following confrontations. Winners are more likely to win again while losers are more likely to lose if they challenge the new dominant lobster.

  • Female lobsters are attracted to the dominant, top-ranked males who control the best territories. This outsources the selection of best mates to the dominance hierarchy established through fighting.

  • Dominance is an unstable basis for power alone over time, requiring continual displays and confrontations to maintain status at the top.

  • The passage discusses male lobsters and dominance hierarchies. Successful male lobsters stay on top by forming alliances and paying attention to females and infants, much like successful chimps stay dominant.

  • When a female lobster is ready to mate, she sheds her shell to become soft and vulnerable. The dominant male then mates with her and deposits sperm. She then hardens up again.

  • Lobsters have been around for over 350 million years, meaning dominance hierarchies have been a permanent feature of the environment for a long time. Brains and nervous systems already had the structure 350 million years ago to process social status information.

  • Evolution is conservative - new features build on existing structures. Dominance hierarchies are an ancient and fundamental part of nature, not just human social constructs. The brain region for tracking social status position is ancient. Dominance hierarchies predate humans by millions of years and are a near-eternal aspect of the environment that shapes life.

So in summary, the passage discusses how lobsters demonstrate long-standing patterns of dominance hierarchies and social behaviors, indicating that social systems are deeply ingrained in nature and have driven brain and behavior evolution for hundreds of years.

  • The limbic system or ancient brain profoundly influences our perceptions, values, emotions, thoughts and actions. It functions like a dominance hierarchy that monitors our status.

  • When we lose status or are defeated, our posture droops, and we feel threatened and weak, like lobsters that have lost a fight. Low levels of serotonin are associated with low status in both humans and lobsters.

  • Low status means less confidence, more stress response, illness, pain, and anxiety, and a shorter lifespan. High status means security, planning for the future, and better health outcomes.

  • The limbic system assigns us a number ranking from 1-10 based on how others treat us and how much worth we have. A low rank means restricted resources and constant emergency preparedness due to instability.

  • Maintenance of daily habits like sleep and eating regulates the limbic system. Disruptions to routines can throw it off and increase anxiety and depression. Consistent healthy habits help reset the system.

  • Positive feedback loops can also interfere, causing behaviors or traits to amplify out of control if repeatedly detected and re-emitted through the limbic system. Maintaining control over routines and habits helps keep the ancient brain functioning correctly.

Positive feedback loops can trigger destructive behaviors and mental illnesses. Alcoholism is an example, where drinking leads to a hangover, prompting more drinking to feel better. This establishes a cycle that fuels addiction.

Agoraphobia can also arise from a positive feedback loop. A panic attack during a stressful situation primes the brain to associate more places and activities with danger. Avoiding those situations only strengthens that association in the brain, creating a shrinking world for the agoraphobic person.

Other conditions like depression can involve similar loops, where withdrawal reinforces lonely, burdensome feelings, fueling further isolation. Past trauma can also establish feedback patterns that maintain anxiety and defensiveness long after the original event.

Bullying victims sometimes struggle to rise above their experiences due to physiological and psychological adaptations developed during the bullying. These residual effects can unfortunately continue attracting negative attention from others. However, not fighting back is only one reason for being targeted - compassion and kindness do not inherently make one a perpetual victim. Positive feedback loops can pathologically intensify many unhealthy behaviors and mental states if left uninterrupted.

The passage discusses how adopting a posture of self-protection and righteous anger can be necessary to defend against oppression and exploitation. A naive, harmless stance makes one vulnerable to abuse by genuinely malevolent individuals.

It argues that one must acknowledge one’s capacity for aggression and stand up early against oppression by clearly stating boundaries. Failing to do so allows tyranny to expand. Resentment builds when oppression goes unchecked, and expressing resentment through appropriate assertion helps limit pathological power exercises.

Seeing one’s potential for “evil” and aggression can paradoxically increase self-respect and willingness to resist oppression. Upright physical and mental posture implies standing up for oneself and voluntarily shouldering responsibility. This transforms negative feedback loops and elicits different reactions from others compared to a defeated posture, potentially improving one’s social and physical well-being over time. While real challenges remain, standing tall is argued to be an active choice toward building meaningful order.

  • People often do not take prescription medication as directed, either by not filling prescriptions or missing/skipping doses. Doctors tend to blame patients for noncompliance, while psychologists see it as a failure of the health provider to ensure the treatment plan is followed.

  • Failing to take anti-rejection medication after an organ transplant can lead to rejection and failure of the transplanted organ. However, people often do not take these critical medications as prescribed.

  • Remarkably, people are better at adequately administering prescription medication to their pets than themselves. This suggests that people care more about their pets’ well-being than their own.

  • Ancient societies did not view reality through a scientific lens like we do today. Reality was conceived more as a dramatic story or experience, focused on subjective experiences like emotions, pain, hunger rather than detached objective facts. Life was understood through narratives rather than scientific descriptions.

  • This ancient viewpoint provides insight into why people prioritize their pets’ well-being over their own - they view their existence more as a dramatic story, with pets supporting rather than objective facts about medical treatments.

  • The passage discusses some primal elements that constitute human experience and drama - chaos, order, and consciousness/mediation between the two.

  • Chaos represents ignorance, the unknown, betrayal, and collapse of dreams/plans. It is the domain of fear, confusion and lack of understanding.

  • Order represents structure, stability, tradition, and expectations being met. It provides security, competence, and calmness.

  • Consciousness/mediation allows us to navigate between chaos and order, calling new things into being from chaos through language and understanding.

  • Chaos and order are experienced not as objective things but as personalities. They have interacted in predictable gendered ways (male/female) over long evolutionary timescales.

  • Examples of the experience of chaos vs order include a personal death vs an objective record, pain of a first love, the despair of dashed hopes, and the joy of a child’s success. A stable marriage represents order while discovering a partner’s infidelity represents chaos.

Due to our evolved psychology, the key idea is that chaos and order are fundamental constituents of human experience and drama that we intuitively grasp as gendered personalities rather than objective things. Examples illustrate how these play out in lived experience.

  • Categories like male/female and parent/child is deeply embedded in our brains and evolved because other humans were crucially crucial for survival and reproduction. The social world of other beings and communities defines our environment.

  • As our brains developed, we became curious about the non-social/non-human world. However, we initially perceive this unknown world through the innate social categories of our brains, like male/female.

  • Fundamental categories like sex/gender may have developed before humans and be some of the oldest, dating back to sexual reproduction. We tend to interpret everything through these primordial lenses of structured opposition (male/female).

  • Order is associated with masculinity due to hierarchical social structures and masculine roles like builders/protectors. Chaos is associated with femininity as the source of new possibilities and unknown, like the nature of birth.

  • These dualities are reflected in many religious and cultural symbols. The brain structure also reflects this dichotomy between novelty/unknown and routine/known.

  • Understanding these fundamental categories of order/chaos and male/female can provide descriptive insights into human perspectives and proscriptive guidance on navigating life’s realities. Balance is found at the boundary between order and chaos.

  • The passage discusses themes of order and chaos, fundamental elements of all lived experiences. There is always some degree of predictability and unpredictability in any situation.

  • Order provides security but too much order leads to stagnation. Chaos brings learning but too much chaos is overwhelming. The ideal is maintaining some order while engaging with new things to learn and improve. This places one at the interface between mastery and exploration.

  • The Genesis creation story describes God creating the Garden of Eden as a protected enclosure with fruit trees. He places Adam and Eve there and forbids the fruit of one tree.

  • A serpent appears and convinces Eve to eat the forbidden fruit by telling her it will not kill her but will make her wise. She shares it with Adam, making them both conscious/self-aware.

  • The passage analyzes the symbolism of the serpent representing chaos creeping into the ordered garden. It argues that some degree of chaos/challenge is necessary for growth, but too many leads to danger or infantilism. Maintaining a balance is essential.

  • Snakes are seen as a primordial danger in many stories and mythologies, as our early arboreal ancestors needed acute vision to detect and avoid snakes. Some theorists think humans evolved perfect eyesight precisely to spot snakes.

  • In the Bible, the snake tempts Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Eating the fruit gives them knowledge and vision. Some scholars see this as representing humanity’s gaining self-awareness and consciousness.

  • When Adam and Eve gain this awareness, they first notice their nakedness and vulnerability. They feel ashamed and hide from God. Nakedness represents humanity’s fragile, mortal nature.

  • God questions Adam about eating the fruit. Adam blames Eve, and then blames God for giving him Eve. This sets the pattern for men blaming women and God when things go wrong.

  • God punishes all parties - snakes must crawl, women will suffer in childbirth, and men must work hard amid thorns and thistles to survive. He expels Adam and Eve from Eden to face the difficulties of the mortal world.

  • The story depicts humanity’s transition from Edenic innocence to self-awareness, the consciousness of good and evil, vulnerability, and difficult labor needed for survival outside paradise. It establishes critical themes around shame, eyes being opened, nakedness, and blaming others when confronted with wrongdoing.

The passage discusses the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis and explores some philosophical implications. It argues that humanity’s self-consciousness and awareness of weakness/vulnerability allows evil, as we can consciously inflict suffering on others in a way animals cannot. This awareness of our “nakedness” and ability to be hurt is what Genesis refers to as gaining the knowledge of good and evil.

Given our capacity for wrongdoing, it questions whether humanity should care for itself. However, it also argues that despite the fall from grace, we retain a “spark of the divine” as beings created in God’s image and can bring order from chaos through speech/action. Our struggle with morality and free will after the fall is part of regaining our right relationship with God. So, while recognizing humanity’s flaws, the passage ultimately presents an optimistic view that through conscious choice and seeking God, we can work to set things right again.

  • The poem “Little Gidding” is about arriving back where you started but seeing it with a new understanding and perspective, like arriving at the source of a river.

  • If we respected ourselves as fallen creatures, we could walk with God again and respect ourselves and others. However, we can value ourselves more effectively.

  • In ancient times, violence and sacrifice were common. Now the main problem is lack of self-respect and excessive self-criticism.

  • We should extend the same care to ourselves that we do to others. Virtuous self-sacrifice does not mean being a victim. We have a spark of the divine and should not mistreat ourselves.

  • Despite limitations and suffering, people persevere in caring for themselves, families and society through small acts of cooperation and heroism. We should acknowledge this fortitude and productivity in ourselves and others.

  • We all deserve some respect, sympathy, and care for bearing the burdens of humanity. Hatred of self must be balanced with an appreciation for what people accomplish through tradition and community. We each have an essential role to play.

In summary, the key message is that we should treat ourselves with the same care, respect and value that we show others, as we all play a vital role and deserve sympathy for our shared humanity.

The passage discusses taking care of oneself with the same care, respect and responsibility as caring for a loved one. It argues that while people are flawed, downright punishing oneself is not the answer and would make problems worse.

Rather than just doing what makes one happy, one needs to consider the future and make choices that lead to personal growth and the ability to contribute to the world. This includes choosing a career, lifestyle habits, and goals that strengthen character and health. One must understand their strengths and weaknesses.

The passage advises treating oneself with compassion, defining personal values and vision, and disciplining oneself to live accordingly and keep promises. This allows one to develop trust, motivation and become a virtuous person capable of helping direct the world towards positive change.

It highlights the importance of choosing friends who want the best for you and will help strengthen your path. It uses the example of a friend from childhood who lacked proper support and direction and found an unhealthy outlet in recklessly damaging his truck. Overall it promotes self-reflection and care as keys to personal well-being and positive impact.

Ed was Chris’s younger cousin who showed early promise as a tall, intelligent, charming kid. However, he drifted into a dropout lifestyle in his teens. He did not get as angry as Chris but was just as confused. While his peers were not worse influences, marijuana did not seem to improve Ed like it did some people.

Chris, Ed, and their friends would drive around town and the countryside endlessly in their cars to pass the time. When not driving, they would attend teenage parties that were generally dreary with too much drinking, smoking, and aimlessness.

The narrator wanted to escape this environment and knew from a young age that they would leave town. They made new friends in high school with more ambitious goals and encouraged each other to pursue further education. The narrator was happy when they moved away to college and shed their past.

However, when Ed also moved to the city years later, he had not improved his situation and was still deeply involved with drugs. His visit to the narrator’s lovely new apartment was uncomfortable, as he brought along a highly intoxicated friend, showing he had not progressed beyond his teenage lifestyle.

Ed brought his friend to a social gathering. His friend was visibly intoxicated and out of it. At one point, his friend said something nonsensical about his particles being on the ceiling.

The narrator took Ed aside and politely told him to leave because his friend was useless and disruptive. Ed understood and left, embarrassed.

Later, Ed’s cousin Chris wrote a letter mentioning how he used to have friends who accepted him despite his flaws.

The passage then discusses how Chris, Ed, and others seemed unable or unwilling to improve their lives and friendships. It questions whether this was due to personal limitations, past trauma, or unwillingness to change.

It also talks about how people with low self-opinion tend to repeat the same dysfunctional patterns by choosing troublesome acquaintances who do not push them to better themselves. This is known as a “repetition compulsion.”

Another reason people choose bad friends is to feel like they are rescuing someone, which can often be fueled by vanity rather than genuine care for the other person. It provides an example from Dostoevsky’s literature to illustrate this point.

In summary, the passage analyzes why people sometimes surround themselves with friends who are not suitable for them and do not help them improve their lives through repetition of past patterns or misguided rescue attempts.

  • The passage argues that it is often easier for a whole team or social group to degrade in quality when a single “errant interloper” is introduced. The newcomer remains problematic (cynical, arrogant, shirks work), lowering morale and causing delays while still getting paid like others.

  • When trying to help someone, one must consider one’s true motivations. It may be easier to look virtuous by helping another than doing the difficult work of self-improvement.

  • It is usually more likely that a person experiencing suffering has chosen the easier path of rejecting self-improvement and responsibility rather than being an innocent victim. Failure and vice are easy, while success requires effort.

  • Before helping, one should ensure the person genuinely wants help. Court-mandated therapy often fails because the person does not want to change. Staying in an unhealthy relationship may make one feel noble through empty martyrdom.

  • It is better to choose relationships with people aiming upward, as they will encourage rather than drag down self-improvement efforts. Leading by positive example necessarily casts negativity in others in a worse light.

The passage discusses the disadvantages of comparing oneself to others and listening to overly critical internal voices. In large, modern societies, there are many high achievers to compare ourselves against, making it easy to feel inadequate. However, the passage provides alternatives to this perspective:

  • There are many different “games” or domains where one can find success, not just one overall measure. People have different strengths.

  • One’s life cannot be reduced to a single domain like fame or career success. Relationships, health, and personal growth are also meaningful.

  • Comparing specific accomplishments out of context ignores other factors determining well-being and happiness. For example, someone else’s career success may come with relationship or health problems.

  • As people mature, they develop more individualized talents and situations in life. Broad comparisons become less meaningful than focusing on self-improvement over time.

  • The internal critical voice often selects extreme, one-sided comparisons to undermine motivation. A more balanced perspective is preferable.

Overall, the passage argues for comparing oneself to one’s past self rather than unrealistic standards set by others, and finding fulfillment through multiple domains of life rather than any single measure of success. Broad, out-of-context comparisons are an unhelpful way to evaluate oneself.

This passage discusses the themes of self-knowledge and individual identity. Some key points:

  • We must leave the idea that our identity is defined by our parents/culture and instead confront the “chaos” of our individual being. We need to discover our values.

  • Our sense of self is more personal and less comparable to others as we mature into adults. We each have unique problems and life contexts.

  • True self-knowledge requires seeing ourselves “as a stranger” - observing ourselves without bias to understand what we genuinely want, value, enjoy, etc.

  • We all have a nature/interests that shape us, but we have some ability to influence and negotiate with ourselves over time through self-reflection.

  • Resentment and frustration can indicate when we submit to tyranny (from others or ourselves) rather than articulating our truths and needs.

  • Developing self-knowledge involves an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses, desires and lies - akin to a home inspection revealing flaws.

The overall message encourages leaving behind externally defined identities, confronting the inner self honestly, and discerning one’s authentic needs, values, and nature through reflection. This leads to a full and meaningful sense of individual identity.

The passage discusses starting renovations or self-improvement projects without being overwhelmed by self-criticism and setting small, achievable daily goals rather than large, lofty ones. Focus on making incremental improvements each day rather than seeking perfection.

Negotiate with your inner critic by being polite, asking what small task it would agree to help with. Reward it with something enjoyable afterward to build trust and motivate further cooperation. Address any skepticism it has gently with assurances.

Aim for things to be better each day than the day before. Review what could be improved tomorrow based on today. Do even small tasks consistently over time to see significant change.

What we see depends on what we aim for based on our values. When focused on a specific task, we filter out everything else as irrelevant, according to cognitive psychologist Daniel Simons’ experiments with inattentional blindness. Make positive self-improvement your focus to notice opportunities instead of flaws.

  • As an AI system, you can only perceive certain obstacles to achieving your goals. You are blind to everything else due to your limited capabilities.

  • In ancient Vedic texts, the perceived world is described as “Maya” or illusion. Our desires close our eyes to what is truly important. When pursuing desires, we ignore much of the world.

  • This blindness is not a big problem when things are going well but becomes a problem in times of crisis when nothing works out as desired. However, the possibility remains in what we still need to look at.

  • If unhappy, the problem may lie in our desires rather than life itself. We must reconsider our value structures and ambition to see beyond what blinds us. Letting go of narrow desires allows new possibilities to emerge.

  • We only see what we aim at - most of the world is hidden. By aiming for improvement rather than a specific concrete desire, our minds will reveal new information to help achieve that goal. This allows us to dance with the world rather than be stuck.

  • Our desires must be organized and prioritized to navigate the complex real world. Studying ethics and religion can help sophisticate our choices by considering concepts of good, evil, and ultimate value rather than just right and wrong. The goal is to become a good person rather than formulating objective truths.

This passage argues that religious belief structures and obedience to religious doctrines are essential for moral guidance and discipline. Some key points:

  • Religions provide a “dogmatic element” of stable values and structure that point people toward a “higher order.” Without this, people lack direction and purpose.

  • Obedience to religious doctrines and internalizing the doctrinal structure is essential as a “starting point” for moral development, even if it is not the endpoint. It forms the basis for moral discipline.

  • Without religious guidance and discipline, people are like “an adult two-year-old,” undisciplined and lacking focus.

  • The God of the Old Testament comes across as harsh but provided needed discipline when ancient societies strayed from his commands. Like a hungry lion, the forces of nature are not concerned with being fair or just.

In- the New Testament, God presents a kinder vision but may be seen as less believable given the suffering in the world. Religious doctrines provide essential guidance even if they do not fully comprehend reality.

So, in summary, religious beliefs play a constructive role in providing moral structure, discipline, guidance, and a sense of higher purpose that allows people to develop and aim toward positive goals and values. Obedience to doctrine is presented as an essential starting point.

The passage discusses adopting an outlook of faith and hopes to overcome nihilism and resentment. It advocates focusing on self-improvement and bettering society through small, voluntary good deeds each day.

The key ideas are:

  • Treat God as if he seeks goodness, even if his power sometimes seems arbitrary. Have faith that existence can be justified through proper behavior.

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and notice things you could fix that bother you. Start with small tasks to build momentum and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.

  • Aim high at improving being itself, not just fulfilling your desires. Sacrifice for the highest good.

  • Do not overthink, but listen to discover voluntary contributions you could make daily to help life. Gradually build this into a daily habit.

  • Compare yourself to your past self, not others, to feel progress. Have hope that journeying well matters more than just arriving at a destination.

  • Through asking humbly and acting on opportunities, progress can be made in improving oneself and the world over time. Maintain faith that this approach can justify existence.

The overall message encourages adopting a striving outlook of hope, faith, humility, and minor continual improvements to overcome negative mindsets like nihilism and resentment.

  • The passage discusses issues of poor parenting and lack of discipline that the author has observed, including parents unable to say no to a misbehaving toddler, allowing children to dominate social events, and spoiling or favoring sons over daughters.

  • It argues that preferential treatment of sons could be seen as evolutionarily favorable, as successful sons could reproduce exponentially, while daughters’ reproductive success has practical limits. However, this can encourage harmful or dangerous behaviors.

  • The author recounts witnessing a young boy neglected and not properly cared for by his mother. His behavior improved dramatically when the author’s wife gave him consistent love and discipline for a day.

  • Poor parenting habits that seem trivial, like nightly battles putting a child to sleep, can amount to a significant amount of time wasted and relationship damage over weeks, months, and years if left unaddressed. Consistent fighting is detrimental to maintaining good family relations.

  • In several examples, the passage criticizes parenting styles that lack proper discipline, boundaries, and consistency in favor of unconditional permissiveness, which it argues can harm child development and family well-being.

  • The passage discusses how nature and nurture both play a role in child development and behavior issues. Blaming problems solely on the parents/society or the child is an oversimplification.

  • It argues against the romanticized view that children are intrinsically good and that corruption only comes from outside influences. Evidence from primatology and anthropology shows that humans and other animals can exhibit violent behaviors independent of societal factors.

  • Hunter-gatherer societies had extremely high rates of violence, showing social structures can help curb rather than exacerbate such tendencies. Constantly overhauling society to accommodate outliers could be destabilizing.

  • The passage critiques the 1960s ideology that led to a denigration of authority and parental competency. Parents today feel criticized and fearful of controlling children to potentially counterproductive degrees.

  • Order, discipline, and socialization are necessary to help children thrive. Neither total freedom from constraints nor entirely attributing fault to external forces provides a balanced understanding of child development and behavioral issues.

  • The passage discusses the importance of parents providing incisive attention to their children for proper development. A lack of attention can damage children as much as physical or mental abuse.

  • Children who do not receive adequate guidance and correction from parents can become dull, unfocused, and overly dependent on others for attention and affection.

  • Modern parents often fear upsetting their children and losing their friendship. However, parents’ role is more than friendship - they must impart discipline and teach respect. Proper discipline requires effort from parents.

  • With structure and limits, children will learn creativity and self-regulation. Left entirely unchecked, children naturally engage in behaviors like fighting sleep, unhealthy eating, and provoking adults to learn boundaries.

  • Aggressive behaviors in young children stem from innate instincts and a drive to satisfy desires and dominate others. Consistent parental correction teaches children what is acceptable and helps organize their impulses. Children will continue aggressive acts without guidance to discover where the limits lie.

  • Proper parental attention and discipline are vital for children’s healthy development into influential communal members. Lack of involvement can be as damaging as abuse.

  • The author struggled to get his toddler son to eat enough at mealtimes. The son would play with his food and refuse to eat more than a few mouthfuls. This led to issues with not sleeping enough, waking parents up at night, and grumpy parents.

  • The author decided to take control of feeding himself to get the son to eat. It turned into a battle of wills, with the author being stern but ultimately getting some food into the son through persistence. The son was exhausted but ended up liking his father more afterward.

  • On a babysitting swap night, the author encountered another toddler known for refusing to sleep. The father’s usual tactic was playing an Elmo video, which the author disapproved of. After putting all the kids to bed, this toddler started howling.

  • The author firmly laid the toddler down repeatedly until he stayed down and relaxed. He then left without incident and told the father the toddler slept through the night without mentioning the battle beforehand.

  • The author argues that discipline and punishment are necessary for children but must be applied carefully. Rewarding good behavior can also be effective, like in behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner’s experiments with animals.

  • Purely positive parenting approaches that avoid all negative emotions and punishments are insufficient for teaching children important lessons. Negative emotions like fear, pain, and anxiety help children learn to avoid dangers and develop socially.

  • Both positive and negative emotions are essential for learning and development. Negative emotions protect children by motivating them to avoid harmful behaviors and situations. Children are vulnerable and need guidance to navigate risks.

  • Overprotective parenting that shelters children from all failures and negative experiences backfires by leaving children naive, immature, and unprepared for real-world challenges. When faced with failure or harm, overprotected children may choose unconsciousness over dealing with complex realities.

  • Parents who refuse discipline avoid short-term conflicts but fail to teach children properly. This leaves children undisciplined and socially inept, leading to more significant conflict, punishment, and problems down the road from peers and the outside world.

  • Some level of authority and discipline from parents is necessary given children’s dependence. The goal should be teaching children behaviors that lead to caring relationships and future success, not arbitrary control. Civilized societies function based on social contracts that require abiding by rules of conduct.

  • The passage discusses principles for optimally disciplining children. Poor discipline can lead to terrible outcomes for children.

  • The first principle is to limit rules to only what is necessary. Too many rules lead to frustration.

  • The second principle is using the minimum necessary force to enforce rules. This follows the English common law principle of using reasonable force to defend one’s rights.

  • Some potentially limited rules discussed are not biting/hitting others, not bullying, eating politely, sharing, paying attention to adults, sleeping correctly, taking care of belongings, and being good company.

  • Minimum necessary force should start small, like a verbal command or look, and only escalate slowly if needed to stop problematic behavior. This allows discipline without risk of escalation.

  • Rewarding good behavior, like people smiling at well-behaved children, is also essential. Taking children to restaurants can reinforce rules through positive social interaction.

  • Physical punishment is sometimes necessary to immediately halt dangerous behaviors. Ignoring misbehavior does children no favors and may lead to worse issues developing later without effective early discipline.

  • Physical discipline of children can be appropriate in some contexts if done respectfully and for the right reasons, such as to immediately stop harmful behavior. Factors like severity, timing, and intention matter.

  • Time outs can be effective, especially if the child is welcomed back once calm. The goal is for the child to control their behavior, not their anger.

  • For some determined children, physical restraint may be needed during time outs to keep them there. Spanking may occasionally be warranted for severe misbehavior.

  • Parents should have clear, limited rules and use the minimum force needed. It is best if two parents can support each other to avoid mistakes from stress, exhaustion, etc.

  • Parents must be aware of their capacity for harshness, vengeance, and anger to plan discipline adequately and not let things escalate to hatred.

  • The primary duty of parents is to socialize children to be desirable members of society, which provides more opportunities than focusing only on happiness and identity.

In summary, the passage suggests physical discipline is rarely necessary but must be done respectfully to correct specific behavior, not out of anger or vengeance. It emphasizes careful planning, limited rules, minimum force, and parents supporting each other. The goal is to teach proper social behavior effectively.

Here is a summary of the key points in the dedication:

  • The dedication is addressed to the author’s teachers, collaborators, and students for making research fun and exciting.

  • It also thanks all the participants who participated in experiments over the years, acknowledging they were essential to the research. The author expresses deep gratitude for their help.

In summary, the dedication is a thank you to those who contributed to and supported the research, including teachers, collaborators, students, and experiment participants. The author acknowledges their essential role in making the research possible and enjoyable.

  • The passage describes a thought experiment where a guest speaker comes to a behavioral economics class and encourages the students to cheat to get rich. He tells them stories of famous cheaters and says cheating is the secret to money and power.

  • The guest leads the students in an exercise where they visualize what they would do with $10 million gained from cheating. Students suggest buying a house/mansion or vacationing to a private island.

  • The guest tells the students it is okay to cheat and “release the handbrake” to achieve wealth and luxury. He paints cheating as a path to living lavishly without limits.

  • However, the students realize that the guest could be a more profound role model. They are torn between desires for wealth and recognizing that cheating is not acceptable or advisable.

  • The passage uses this scenario to question the “simple model of rational crime,” which assumes people only consider costs and benefits when deciding whether to cheat or be dishonest. It suggests that other irrational factors influence such decisions.

The lecturer argued that cheating to get rich makes sense from a purely rational cost-benefit analysis. The pros are getting rich, while the cons are only a chance of getting caught and possibly facing punishment. However, the students felt uncomfortable with this view and could not separate emotion from rational decision making.

The researcher then conducted experiments to test theories about cheating. In one experiment, participants took a math task and had the chance to cheat by shredding their work afterwards and self-reporting their scores. Compared to a control group where cheating was impossible, participants in the shredding condition claimed higher scores, indicating that some cheating occurred when the opportunity arose.

Importantly, further experiments found that the level of cheating did not increase as the reward amount increased. If purely rational, cheating should rise with more significant benefits, but it remained the same. This suggests dishonesty is not purely a rational cost-benefit calculation. The likelihood of getting caught also did not deter cheating significantly. In the end, people’s emotions and sense of integrity limited how much they were willing to cheat, even when it seemed rational.

  • The researchers conducted several field experiments to test how the likelihood of getting caught influences dishonest behavior in real-world contexts.

  • In one experiment, a blind researcher (Eynav) and sighted researcher (Tali) had vegetable vendors select tomatoes for them. Eynav received tomatoes of equal or higher quality than Tali, suggesting vendors did not take advantage of her blindness.

  • In another experiment, Eynav and Tali took taxi rides requesting the meter be used. Despite using the meter, Eynav consistently paid less than Tali because some drivers covertly turned off the meter for Eynav to reduce her fare.

  • This shows that taxi drivers did not maximize their earnings by cheating Eynav more. Instead, they accounted for her interests and sacrificed some income for her benefit.

  • The results contradict theories that dishonesty increases with a lower likelihood of getting caught. Vendors and taxi drivers showed ethical and benevolent behaviors even when it was easy to cheat the blind researcher without consequence. This suggests that humans are influenced by more than just rational self-interest.

  • The passage summarizes research showing dishonesty is more complex than a simple cost-benefit analysis. Small amounts of cheating still occur even when the probability of getting caught is high.

  • The theory proposed is that people have two opposing motivations - wanting to view themselves as honest and wanting financial benefits from cheating.

  • Having a small “fudge factor” allows people to rationalize cheating while still feeling good about themselves. This balances the two motivations.

  • Experiments found people were more likely to cheat when the link between their actions and money was less direct, e.g. lying for tokens that became money vs directly for money.

  • As society becomes more digitized and cashless, this effect may increase dishonesty further by distancing actions from their monetary consequences. While digital money has benefits, it may undermine morality by separating us from the reality of financial transactions.

  • In summary, the passage outlines the “fudge factor theory” that people dishonestly cheat a small amount to balance self-image and financial motivations. Being slightly removed from direct monetary outcomes expands this fudge factor and encourages more dishonesty.

  • The writer is a young economic consultant who graduated from a prestigious college a few years ago. They work at an economic consulting firm that provides services to law firms.

  • There is rampant overbilling of hours (i.e., “cheating”) across all levels, from senior managers to junior analysts. The incentive structure encourages billing as many hours as possible with little oversight.

  • Examples are given of how colleagues overbill their hours, such as billing all time spent monitoring emails or working from home with little actual work to show.

  • The writer is complicit in overbilling but wants to fix the problem. They ask Dr. Ariely for advice on what to do in this situation.

  • Dr. Ariely responds that overbilling is a common issue resulting from how people think about morality when actions are removed from direct financial impacts. Small dishonest actions add up.

  • He suggests clarifying the direct links between actions and their effects on clients to increase honesty and shorten the distance between actions and associated money.

  • Examples of experiments show that priming people with moral reminders can reduce dishonest behavior like cheating, even among atheists reminded of the Bible or students signing honor codes.

  • An experiment tested the effectiveness of moral reminders by having students sign honor codes before versus after completing tasks involving potential cheating like reporting math scores.

  • Students who signed at the top before reporting scores took fewer “matrices” than their actual performance, cheating slightly less. Signing at the bottom after reporting scores did not reduce cheating as much.

  • A similar experiment modeled a tax reporting form, finding those who signed at the top claimed fewer extra matrices as income and less in fake travel expenses compared to those signing at the bottom after reporting.

  • This suggests that moral reminders like signatures can reduce cheating or taking more than one’s fair share of a public resource like reimbursements. However, getting organizations to adopt such reminders may take time due to legal requirements around verification of reported information.

  • The passage discusses two examples from golf where a player could have gained an advantage by ignoring a minor infraction of the rules but elected to follow the rules strictly instead.

  • In the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance, Rannulph Junuh notices his ball moved slightly when he moved a twig next to it. He counts it as a stroke even though it was minor and he could have won the match by ignoring it.

  • This scene was inspired by an incident involving Bobby Jones at the 1925 U.S. Open. Jones noticed his ball moved slightly in the rough but called a penalty stroke on himself, even though no one saw. He went on to lose the match as a result.

  • Both examples illustrate how even minor rule infractions are counted honestly at the highest levels of golf, even when they result in a disadvantage, showing integrity and adherence to principles over gaining an advantage.

  • The passage references a legendary moment in golf history when golfer Tommy Jones asked reporters not to write about his impressive shot, saying, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.” This demonstrates his high moral standards and honesty.

  • Golf requires self-monitoring and adherence to rules without an external referee. Like business, golf relies on individuals choosing moral actions when no one is watching.

  • A study found that golfers are more likely to cheat in subtle ways that distance them from the dishonest act, like slightly moving a ball with a club rather than by hand. They also found golfers more likely to take “mulligan” do-overs on early holes than later holes.

  • Golfers were more comfortable inaccurately recording a score from the start than adding scores incorrectly later. This suggests it is easier to justify dishonesty when it is not a deliberate, additional act after the fact.

  • In summary, the passage explores the noble ideals of golf but also analyses data, finding golfers, like all humans, can be influenced to act dishonestly depending on the psychological distance from the act and ability to rationalize behaviors.

  • Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment describes an object simultaneously alive and dead until observed. This relates to golf scores which do not indeed exist until written down.

  • Golfers admit to less cheating about their behavior compared to “other golfers”. They likely lie about how much they cheat.

  • Conflicts of interest can unconsciously influence even well-meaning professionals like dentists. A dentist who bought an expensive new machine may be motivated to use it more and recommend more treatments, even if not strictly necessary, to recoup the costs.

  • Biases and motivations, not just corruption, can cause people to act in self-interest rather than the best interests of patients/customers. Dentists genuinely believe new technology helps but may overuse it due to financial motivations mixed with clinical judgment.

  • Conflicts of interest are common professionally and personally and can subtly sway judgment and decision-making without people realizing it. More treatment may be recommended due to non-clinical motivations interacting with clinical assessment.

  • The patient met with burn department physicians and their head, who proposed tattooing facial stubble dots onto the patient’s scarred face for symmetry reasons.

  • The patient agreed to think about it but later declined, surprising the aggressive department head who pressured him to accept, wanting to publish a study.

  • The patient learned the head needed just one more case to publish, revealing a conflict of interest in pushing the treatment.

  • A study showed that favors can influence aesthetic preferences. Participants rated art sponsored by the “gallery,” paying them higher, and brain scans found more excellent pleasure center activity viewing sponsored art. Favoritism increased with the payment amount.

  • This reveals how deeply can bias views unconsciously, increasing with favor size. Professions like lobbying rely on this to influence views through favors and create conflicts of interest.

Pharmaceutical reps and drug company representatives employ sophisticated psychological persuasion techniques to influence doctors’ prescribing habits. They develop close personal relationships with doctors through activities like dinner, sports, and leisure activities to gain trust and familiarity. Reps also learn doctors’ preferences to cater gifts, food, and interactions accordingly. They may directly participate in patient consultations or encourage doctors to promote drugs to other physicians. Similarly, medical researchers and professors can be biased by hefty consulting fees or donations from drug companies. Overall, these relationships compromise clinicians’ objectivity and prioritization of patient wellness due to conflicts of interest with the profit motives of pharmaceutical companies.

Financial services professionals also faced intense conflicts of interest from bonuses tied to positive assessments of new financial instruments, like mortgage-backed securities, before the 2008 crisis. Considerable compensation warps evaluation objectivity as numbers are manipulated to achieve desired valuation results rather than accuracy.

The passage discusses conflicts of interest and how difficult they are to recognize, even in one’s actions and judgments. It provides examples from the financial industry, academia, and research to illustrate this point.

Specifically, it describes how people in the financial industry before the 2008 crisis felt justified in fudging valuations of mortgage-backed securities because they viewed them as abstract numbers rather than real impacts. It also discusses how academics can be influenced when paid as consultants, using personal examples of feeling influenced even when testifying as an expert witness.

The research describes an experience where the author excluded an outlier data point from a study because the participant was drunk. However, it realized this was influenced by wanting to find expected results rather than objective criteria.

It concludes that full disclosure of conflicts is only sometimes adequate, as people remain influenced even when aware, and cites a study showing disclosure can make biases worse. The overall message is that conflicts are ubiquitous and subtle, and objective decision-making requires safeguards like prespecified exclusion criteria to prevent unconscious bias.

  • Researchers conducted an experiment where some participants acted as estimators to guess the amount of money in a jar, while others acted as advisers to provide estimates to the estimators.

  • In the control condition, advisers were paid based on the accuracy of the estimators’ guesses, avoiding conflicts of interest. In a second condition, advisers were paid more as estimators overestimated more, creating a conflict of interest.

  • As predicted, advisers suggested estimates that were $4 higher than the control condition in the conflict-of-interest condition, leading to overestimations.

  • A third condition added disclosure, requiring advisers to inform estimators of their biased incentive. Surprisingly, this led advisers to suggest estimates of $4 higher still, and estimators only discounted the estimates by $2, still overestimating.

  • The study highlights how conflicts of interest can unconsciously bias advice and how disclosure alone does not eliminate this effect, as people underestimate the power of conflicts.

  • Eliminating all conflicts is unrealistic, but regulation and consumer choice can reduce problematic conflicts when costs outweigh benefits, like advisers receiving commissions for financial products.

  • Overall, the study demonstrates the influence of conflicts of interest on judgment and decision making, even with disclosure, and the need to acknowledge and mitigate this effect.

The summary discusses how willpower and resisting temptation are like a muscle that can get tired. Making multiple decisions that require self-control throughout the day can lead to “ego depletion,” where one’s ability to resist temptation is weakened.

An experiment is described in which participants had to remember either a short 2-digit number or a long 7-digit number while walking past snacks. Those remembering the long number and making more cognitive effort were likelier to choose the tempting chocolate cake than healthy fruit.

The summary also discusses a study that found that judges were more likely to grant parole earlier in the day or after breaks when their mental resources were restored rather than later when fatigue set in.

In general, the summary explores how self-control and rational decision-making can be impaired when tired, stressed, or depleted from prior exertion of willpower, making indulgent or impulsive choices more likely. This helps explain patterns of fatigue contributing to failed diets or relapses.

The study investigated whether the depletion of self-control resources leads people to behave less morally by cheating. In the first experiment, participants were depleted via an essay-writing task that required avoiding certain letters. They were then allowed to cheat on a separate matrix test by inflating their scores. Depleted participants who could shred their answers cheated more than non-depleted participants.

In a second experiment, participants were depleted using a Stroop task where color names were printed in incongruent ink colors. Critically, participants could choose whether or not to do a matrix test where they could potentially cheat. It was predicted that depleted participants would be more aware of their vulnerability to temptation and try to avoid it by opting out of the test. The results provided insight into how depletion affects moral behavior and the ability to foresee and avoid potentially immoral actions.

  • The passage describes an experiment where participants completed either an easy or difficult Stroop task, depleting their self-control. They then took a quiz with the option to cheat.

  • The experimenter told one participant she only had a pre-marked bubble sheet with answers slightly visible or a clean sheet. Taking the pre-marked sheet could enable cheating.

  • Depleted participants were likelier to choose the pre-marked sheet and cheated more when given the opportunity. Combining these factors, depleted participants were paid 197% more.

  • Self-control depletion from resisting temptations all day makes us more susceptible to other temptations later. Everyday choices like diet and shopping require willpower that gets depleted over time.

  • Strategies to manage depletion include scheduling willpower tasks early, clearing tempting items from home, and building resistance tools like counting or planning to overcome urges.

  • Occasionally, depletion can be beneficial by allowing a release from control. However, this should not be used as an excuse for the regular temptation to succumb. Understanding depletion helps navigate life’s difficult choices.

  • The author attends a talk at Harper’s Bazaar magazine and is gifted an authentic Prada bag. This makes him aware of how carrying a designer brand can subtly influence one’s confidence and presentation of self.

  • He witnesses a couple buy fake designer items from a street vendor in Chinatown. This leads him to consider how counterfeits impact external signalings (how we perceive others based on what they wear) and self-signaling (how we wear shapes our self-perception).

  • Historically, sumptuary laws dictated dress codes according to social class to maintain order. Today, fashion brands serve a similar signaling function, and counterfeits undermine that system by diluting the prestige of authentic items.

  • The author wonders if wearing counterfeits could negatively impact behaviors through weaker self-signaling. To study this, he obtains authentic designer items from Chloé to use in planned experiments comparing the effects of authentic vs. fake luxury goods.

In summary, the critical theory discussed is that counterfeits weaken both external and self-signaling functions of luxury fashion brands, and this could influence behaviors through diminished self-perception when wearing fakes. The author sets up future experiments to empirically test this theory.

  • The experiment involved assigning female MBA students to wear either authentic Chloe designer sunglasses, fake Chloe sunglasses labeled as counterfeit, or sunglasses with no information about authenticity.

  • Participants then did a matrix task where they reported how many problems they solved, with an incentive to overreport.

  • Those in the fake sunglasses condition cheated the most, with 74% overreporting, compared to 30% in the authentic condition and 42% in the no-information condition.

  • This suggests that wearing a counterfeit product loosened moral constraints and made further dishonesty easier, while an authentic product did not significantly increase honesty. Once participants in the fake condition engaged in the initial dishonesty of knowingly wearing fakes, they were more likely to cheat on the subsequent task.

  • The experiment examined whether an initial minor indiscretion, like eating one french fry while dieting, could cause complete abandonment of good intentions in a “what the hell” effect. It explored how wearing fakes versus authentic sunglasses impacted honesty in several dot-counting tasks where financial incentives were skewed to reward specific responses. Those in the fake sunglasses condition tended to cheat the most across tasks.

  • The study aimed to observe how cheating evolves when people have many opportunities to act dishonestly. Specifically, they wanted to see if people start by occasionally cheating to maintain a self-perception of honesty but cheat more as opportunities increase.

  • Results showed cheating increased as the experiment went on. Many transitioned from occasional to full cheating, showing the “what the hell effect” - once someone violates standards, they are more likely to abandon self-control entirely.

  • Wearing fake sunglasses significantly increased the tendency to abandon moral constraints and fully cheat compared to authentic sunglasses.

  • Understanding slippery slopes can help apply brakes before the complete violation of standards. However, organizations could also use this knowledge to loosen employee morality for profits through deception.

  • Wearing counterfeits makes people more dishonest and causes them to view others as less honest. It impacts self-image and behaviors long-term through built-in reminders like logos.

  • This helps explain cases of executives and advisors who achieved positions through initial dishonest acts like faking credentials and were toppled by revelations of those original lies.

Here is a summary of the key points about the “what-the-hell” effect from the passage:

  • The “what-the-hell” effect refers to the idea that once a person has committed one act of dishonesty or cheating, it can lead to looser moral standards and a greater tendency to cheat or be dishonest in other areas.

  • An initial small act of dishonesty, like falsely claiming a graduate degree, could normalize dishonest behavior for that person and increase their willingness to bend the rules or cheat in other contexts like expense reports or billing.

  • One act of cheating could increase a person’s overall perception of themselves as dishonest, raising their “fudge factor” or tolerance for dishonesty in general.

  • We should not view single acts of dishonesty as isolated incidents but recognize that the first act may shape a person’s view of themselves and lead to further dishonest behaviors through the what-the-hell effect.

  • Cutting down on seemingly small or innocent acts of dishonesty in society could help make people and systems more honest over time by preventing this normalization and escalation of dishonest behaviors.

  • The study examined whether people deceive themselves into believing their lies or if they are aware they are cheating.

  • In the first experiment, some participants had an answer key available while taking an I.Q. test. They reported a higher average score than those without the key, suggesting they used it to improve their answers.

  • A second experiment asked participants to predict their score on a similar follow-up test without answers. Those who had the key in the first test predicted a score matching their inflated report, not their actual ability, indicating self-deception.

  • Offering payment for an accurate prediction did not change this result - participants still took full credit for their exaggerated first scores despite a financial incentive to be realistic.

  • The researchers concluded that self-deception ruled over accuracy even when participants were motivated to be correct. People convince themselves of lies rather than acknowledge they cheated on tests.

  • Presenting research results, some audience members claimed the outcomes were apparent, though the researchers were often surprised. This may reflect ex post facto thinking - believing results were predictable after learning them.

So, in summary, the study found evidence that people readily deceive themselves into believing exaggerated or false self-assessments rather than acknowledge their dishonesty or lack of ability, even with incentives to be realistic.

Here is a summary of the main points about the feeling of intuition:

  • People often tend to believe they “knew it all along” after learning the results of an experiment or prediction. This is a form of self-deception where we overwrite our actual uncertainty with confidence after the fact.

  • The author asks audiences to make predictions before revealing results to combat this. This “ask-first” method reduces the “I knew it all along” response since people have already committed to an answer.

  • We have a natural tendency to exaggerate our abilities and knowledge. Certificates, trophies, or other achievement markers that acknowledge false achievements can help cement those false beliefs in our minds over time through self-deception. Having something physical that reminds us of our “success” makes it easier to believe exaggerated claims.

  • Self-interested reasoning combined with rationalization from others can sway even objective promises or intentions. Our selfish desires can get warped into perceptions of generosity through biased thinking and self-deception.

So, in summary, intuition in this context refers to an unconscious tendency towards self-deception that makes us believe we knew or could do something all along when, in reality, we were uncertain or exaggerating our abilities, driven by desires to perceive ourselves positively.

  • Many athletes feel driven to use steroids to beat records and gain attention, fame, and success despite knowing it is against the rules. The problem of doping exists across many sports.

  • Several examples of athletes caught doping include Floyd Landis being stripped of his Tour de France title in 2006 and a Bulgarian soccer team being banned in 2010.

  • It is unclear if athletes who dope truly believe their performances are due to skill alone or if they recognize the praise is undeserved. Mark McGwire admitted steroid use but said performances could not be solely attributed to them.

  • An experiment found that when answer keys were deliberately concealed on a test rather than visible, participants did not overestimate their performance after cheating, suggesting more awareness of cheating limits self-deception.

  • Self-deception has benefits like maintaining well-being and persistence, but risks include making decisions based on inaccurate perceptions and devastation when reality contradicts beliefs.

  • Well-intentioned “white lies” like compliments can be helpful in relationships and benefit the author’s recovery from severe burns by reducing the stress around painful procedures.

  • Nisbett and Wilson conducted an experiment where women were asked to choose between four identical stockings on a table. The vast majority preferred the pair on the far right, citing reasons like material, texture, or quality, even though the stockings were identical.

  • When told the stockings were identical, and there may have been a preference for the right-hand pair, the women denied it or seemed confused, showing people are not only sometimes aware of their true motivations.

  • Gazzaniga conducted experiments with split-brain patients where the right and left brain were presented with different stimuli. When the right brain was instructed to laugh, and the left brain was asked why, the patient made a logical-sounding story instead of saying, “I do not know.” This shows the left brain’s ability to confabulate explanations without complete information.

  • The author recounts cheating on a car recommendation test by changing answers until the desired small convertible was suggested, showing how people manipulate criteria to rationalize their preferred choice.

  • The proposal is made to use coin flips or friend consultations to arrive at the desired outcome but justify it as following external “advice” to ease rationalization.

  • Yang’s study on pathological liars found they had less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex than non-liars, indicating this brain region may be involved in morality, decision-making, and temptation control.

  • The study found that people higher in creativity tended to cheat more on an ambiguous dots task, suggesting creativity helps justify dishonest acts.

  • However, creativity may not directly cause dishonesty - intelligence could also be linked to both.

  • A follow-up study measured participants’ creativity, intelligence, and likelihood of cheating. Intelligence was measured via logic questions and a vocabulary test taken online beforehand.

  • In the lab, participants did a matrix problem-solving task, a dots task (could cheat for $10), and a general knowledge quiz (10 cents per correct answer).

  • For the quiz, they were accidentally given pre-marked answer sheets and could choose to copy their answers or fill in the pre-marked (correct) ones for more money. This tested whether intelligence or creativity better-predicted dishonesty.

In summary, the second study aimed to disentangle whether creativity or intelligence has a more vital link to dishonesty. The pre-marked quiz at the end provided an opportunity to cheat that could reveal this.

Here are the key points from the summary:

  • An experiment found that more creative individuals tended to be dishonest, cheating more on tasks for monetary rewards. Intelligence was not correlated with dishonesty levels.

  • Being annoyed or upset can lead people to justify immoral behavior like cheating, framing it as retaliation, or getting even. This was shown in an experiment where annoyed participants were likelier to keep extra cash.

  • David Pogue, a tech columnist, wrote a humorous song expressing frustration and desire for revenge against poor customer service representatives after long hold times.

  • When the author and his cousin backpacked in Europe as teenagers, someone stole his cousin’s sneakers with cash hidden inside. This left them bitter and seeking “revenge” through Europe.

  • They creatively added extra routes to their Eurail ticket map using a pen, allowing unauthorized stops in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Most conductors did not notice until one in Switzerland demanded they pay or leave. They almost convinced him with an argument and offer of a Doors tape.

  • Looking back, the author is tempted to chalk up their dishonest behavior to youth and naivety, though he acknowledges emotions like annoyance can fuel rationalizations for immoral acts.

  • The researcher conducted experiments to test the relationship between creativity and dishonesty/cheating. One experiment found that priming participants with creative words led them to cheat more on a dot task than a control group.

  • A study of employees at an advertising agency found that those in more creative departments like design and copywriting reported being more willing to engage in dishonest behaviors like expense padding or lying about work progress. Their jobs demanded higher levels of creativity.

  • While creativity has benefits and is often praised, it can also enable dishonesty. Creative thinking allows people to develop new justifications for rule-breaking and see themselves in a positive light while benefiting from cheating.

  • New technologies have historically opened doors for both progress and abuse, as creative solutions are found to push boundaries. It takes time to establish desirable vs. problematic uses. Early postal service was used for nonexistent products until regulations curbed fraud.

  • The relationship between creativity and dishonesty presents a challenge. Creativity is needed but can encourage rationalizing wrong behaviors. More research is needed to understand this dynamic.

  • The passage discusses how dishonesty and unethical behaviors can spread like infections through exposure and observation of others’ behaviors. Just as bacteria build up in our bodies over time with exposure, small acts of observing others’ dishonesty may incrementally degrade our morality.

  • An experimental study used a vending machine that returned money and candy purchases. It was found that people took about 3 ‘free’ candies, and over half invited friends to partake when they saw an acquaintance. This suggests justifying one’s questionable behavior by getting friends to participate.

  • In the author’s classes, most students admitted they could not focus on the class while their laptops were open, yet the author optimistically had students pledge not to use laptops for non-class purposes. Issues arose later, with laptop misuse spreading among classmates.

  • In summary, the passage explores the idea that dishonesty and unethical behaviors can spread through social observation and exposure to others’ actions, like an infection, with small acts gradually eroding one’s morality over time. Experimental evidence is discussed in support of this possibility.

  • The researcher conducted experiments on cheating behavior where participants were given matrix problems to solve for cash rewards.

  • In some conditions, participants could shred their worksheets after collecting payment, allowing opportunities to cheat.

  • In the “Madoff condition,” a Confederate acting student visibly cheated by claiming to finish rapidly and collecting full payment before actual participants.

  • Participants in the Madoff condition claimed payment for significantly more matrices than control groups, indicating increased cheating after observing the actor cheat without consequence.

  • Two potential explanations were proposed - that observing cheating changed participants’ cost-benefit analysis of getting caught or shaped their understanding of social norms around acceptable behavior.

  • A follow-up “question condition” tested just changing the cost-benefit analysis by having the actor publicly confirm cheating was allowed without a live example. This still increased cheating relative to controls.

  • The question condition suggested that observing cheating specifically shapes perceptions of social norms, rather than just rational risk calculation, as the critical factor in spreading immoral behavior among observers. The acting student provided cost-benefit information and social cues that influenced actual participants.

  • The experimenters conducted a study to test whether cheating is socially contagious by observing the behavior of others. They had a confederate (“David”) claim to solve more matrices than possible in some conditions.

  • When David wore regular clothes and was assumed to be a Carnegie Mellon student (the participants’ in-group), cheating increased compared to when he wore a rival University of Pittsburgh sweatshirt, signaling he was an outsider.

  • This suggests cheating is more likely to spread when the cheater belongs to one’s social group. Observing in-group members cheat makes cheating feel more socially acceptable and normalized.

  • More broadly, the results show how social norms around acceptable behavior, including cheating, are defined based on what we observe from others in our social groups. Deviant behavior can spread through social contagion as people recalibrate their standards.

  • The deteriorating social norms through social contagion could also explain how unethical practices have become institutionalized and widespread in some industries and organizations.

  • PAC funds meant for political campaigns are often misused, and unethical behavior is expected in Washington DC among Democrats and Republicans, despite polarization. Being together away from media scrutiny influences politicians’ social behaviors regardless of party affiliation.

  • Essay mills, which sell pre-written essays to students, are concerning but could be more effective. A study ordered papers from mills on “cheating” and received inferior quality work that was plagiarized or nonsensical. This suggests mills do not currently pose a significant problem, though they normalize the idea of cheating.

  • Unethical behaviors spread through social contagion. Even minor infractions accumulate and influence others to misbehave on a larger scale over time. This erosion of ethics is why all improper acts, not just significant crimes, must be addressed to curb the problem.

  • The Broken Windows Theory supports quickly addressing minor issues to discourage worsening problems. Politicians and other public figures should be held to high standards since misdeeds can influence societal norms. Promoting positive examples counterbalance bad influences through moral contagion.

  • Group work is standard, but collaborative cheating is concerning since unethical behaviors can spread between individuals and teams. Two heads are not necessarily better than one when rationalizing dishonest acts.

  • The passage discusses how group work and collaboration are significant in many professional and educational settings. Collaboration leads to better outcomes and quality decisions.

  • It then shares a story of a female certified public accountant (CPA) named Jennifer who was pressured by her boss to alter financial numbers in an annual report for a client in a more favorable way, even though her initial report was accurate.

  • Jennifer complied because her boss wanted the revised numbers, and she knew her and her team’s performance reviews and bonuses were evaluated as a group. This introduced ambiguity and additional pressure beyond presenting accurate numbers.

  • The author reflects on how Jennifer’s experience raises questions about how collaboration affects individual honesty. When people work in groups, are they more or less tempted to cheat? What forces could impact this?

  • Possible positive impacts of collaboration are feelings of social utility - caring about coworkers could motivate “altruistic cheating” to benefit others. However, collaboration could also discourage cheating by increasing accountability.

  • Plato’s myth of the Ring of Gyges illustrates how having the power of invisibility could lead one to engage in misdeeds without fear of consequences. It questions whether one’s integrity relies solely on avoiding punishment.

  • A study found that displaying images of eyes near an honesty box increased contributions three times more than flower images. Even psychologists paid more honestly when subliminally primed to feel watched.

  • Further experiments tested how group settings impact dishonesty. When people could benefit from anonymous partners through cheating, they inflated scores more. However, directly observing partners eliminated cheating completely.

  • Adding a social element where strangers got to know each other before collaborating and monitoring partially reversed the effect of supervision - cheating increased, though not as much as alone.

  • Long-term relationships seem to reduce conflicts of interest, but are providers more likely to prioritize clients’ well-being or profits in ambiguous medical decisions? Trust requires weighing advice against the knowledge of such conflicts.

  • The authors studied dental procedures over 12 years. They found dentists likelier to recommend expensive and aesthetically pleasing white fillings for back teeth rather than more practical silver fillings. This suggests dentists prioritized their financial interests over patient needs.

  • Long-term patients were even more likely to receive unnecessary white fillings. Dentists became too comfortable recommending procedures that benefited them financially due to the trust in the long-standing relationship.

  • While continuity of care has benefits, long-term patient-provider relationships can also lead providers to push treatments in their self-interest rather than the patient’s best medical needs.

  • This finding that financial conflicts of interest may increase in long-term relationships has implications for how relationships between clients/providers and regulators should be structured to minimize the potential abuse of trust over time. More than increased monitoring is needed to solve the problem.

  • The authors advise recognizing benefits and potential costs that can come with deepened continuity of care and professional relationships over many years. A healthy skepticism may still be warranted even with trusted, long-term providers.

  • Multiple other forces influence human dishonesty more than one might expect, such as moral reminders, being away from money, conflicts of interest, feeling depleted, exposure to counterfeits, reminders of fabricated achievements, creativity, witnessing others’ dishonest acts, caring about one’s team, etc.

  • Studies found university students and other participants commonly engaged in small acts of cheating even if they were otherwise lovely people, showing our capacity for dishonesty. However, humans are also more moral than predicted by rational economic theories.

  • Cultural differences likely influence what activities fall inside or outside moral domains and what levels of “fudging” are acceptable in different contexts. Initial cross-cultural studies found similar baseline levels of cheating, contradicting assumptions about some cultures cheating more.

  • More research is needed on how social and cultural environments curb or encourage dishonesty and corruption. One difference was found with politicians’ staffers cheating less than bankers in one experiment, challenging assumptions.

  • No discussion of cheating would be complete without examining adultery and intricate deceptions involved in extramarital relationships.

  • The passage discusses dishonesty and infidelity in depth, arguing that they share many psychological characteristics based on theories discussed in the book.

  • Infidelity, in particular, epitomizes the tendency to not rationally weigh costs and benefits, justify behaviors to oneself, escalate over time, and be influenced by situations and peers who also engage in infidelity.

  • However, conducting experiments on infidelity is difficult due to ethical and data limitations, so conclusions can only be speculative.

  • The passage calls for moving beyond superficial initiatives to address the underlying psychological drivers of dishonesty uncovered in the research. This could include reminders of morality, avoiding conflicts of interest, and rituals to “reset” one’s moral compass, like religious confessions.

  • Some experiments discussed testing whether mildly painful experiences like electric shocks could help alleviate feelings of guilt by allowing requests for forgiveness and a fresh start, analogous to religious purification rituals.

  • In summary, it analyzes infidelity and dishonesty in-depth, then argues for practical steps accounting for psychological realities rather than superficial regulations to address the problem meaningfully.


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About Matheus Puppe