3 simple ways to increase moral behavior in people

anioł i diabeł
anioł i diabeł

Published: 15-12-2022

Most people sometimes behave unethically, and often it is not because they have immoral personalities, but because the situation is conducive to dishonest behavior. It turns out, however, that sometimes in a simple way you can make more people behave morally in a given situation.

1. Ask them to sign the statement that the data is true

When filling out various official forms, we often have to sign a statement that the data entered is true. Such a statement reduces the chance that a person will provide false information, but, importantly, it must be placed at the beginning of the form, not at the end.

Max Bazerman and his colleagues conducted a study in which participants solved mathematical tasks and then had to count the correct answers on their own based on a key provided by the researchers. For each correct answer, they received a dollar and recorded the results on a form that had three versions. In one version, at the end of the form, there was a statement that the data entered was correct and a place to sign your name, in the second version, this statement was at the beginning, and in the third version, there was no such statement.

It turned out that among those who filled out the form without a signature, 64% cheated on the number of correct answers, among those who signed at the bottom, 79% cheated, and among those who signed before completing the results – only 37%.

The same team of scientists conducted the study in real-life circumstances, working with a motor insurance company. When concluding an insurance contract, customers had to enter the current mileage of their car on the form. Lower mileage means less use of the car, and therefore less risk of an accident and lower insurance cost. On half of the forms, the statement of the veracity of the data was placed at the beginning, and on half – at the end. It turned out that those who signed at the beginning reported mileage on average more than 10% higher than those who signed after completing the mileage.

People want to think of themselves as good, honest people, and as the research above shows, simply reminding them that they are honest by signing a statement about it encourages them to do the right thing.

2. Ask for a reminder of your unethical behavior

Another way to draw attention to a person’s honesty is to ask them to recall their unethical behavior, which they now regret.

Ayelet Fishbach and Oliver J. Sheldon conducted a study among business school students. They took part in a simulation of negotiations between the seller and the buyer of the tenement house. The buyer planned to buy the townhouse in order to demolish it and build a hotel, while the seller intended to pass it on to someone who would keep it. Half of the students were asked to recall a time when they cheated or bent the rules to achieve their goals before the negotiations began.

The results showed that of those who recalled their own immoral behavior, 45% lied to get the contract signed, compared to 67% of the others.

3. Hang a poster with eyes

Melissa Bateson and colleagues conducted an interesting study in her office. There was a coffee machine in this office, which operated on a voluntary basis. Each employee could make a coffee and pay for it, leaving money on a tray. Nobody checked who was leaving and how much money, so the system encouraged people to pay less than would be appropriate. For 10 weeks, the researchers hung a poster next to the espresso machine, which was changed weekly. One had flowers and the other a pair of eyes.

It turned out that in those weeks when a poster with eyes was hanging next to the coffee machine, donations were almost three times higher than when the poster with flowers was hanging. The eyes seemed to suggest to employees that someone was observing them and thus reminded them to be honest.


Catherine A. Sanderson (2020). Efekt obserwatora. Psychologia odwagi i bezczynności, Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Author: Maja Kochanowska

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