The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty Book Summary


Hi Success Titan reader, I’m Sal Damiata, and that’s the book summary of “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty,” written by Dan Ariely. 

Why this Book?

Would you be surprised to discover that the majority of people are made up of cheaters? How would you feel if you knew that this is part of our human nature? Keep reading, and you will discover the honest truth.


The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty is a book that explains the reasons that drive people to lie or cheat, whether that would be at work, in personal relationships, or even with themselves. Anyway, is it really true that we’re all cheaters? Let’s discover it together.

Who’s it for? 

  • People that would like to understand the psychology of cheating;
  • Everybody that would like to create a trustworthy environment in their workplace;
  • People that would like to cheat less even if this seems really hard for them.

What You’ll Learn from it

  • Why humans cheat, and what are the real drivers behind this act;
  • How to people are usually influenced into cheating more;
  • How to curb cheating behaviors in other people.

In a Nutshell

  • Peoples’ intentions are not as bad as you think, even when they cheat. Cheating, in fact, is usually an activity that isn’t calculated through with a cost-benefit analysis, it is rather influenced by social customs, cognitive strain, and psychological distance towards the act.

3 Sentence Summary

  • People don’t cheat more just because of more opportunities but because of morality and other factors. Through many case studies, it has been seen that the chances of cheating don’t increase with better potential gains, and the probability of getting caught is not as a big influence in performing cheating behavior as we think. 
  • Generally, the people act with integrity, and the more honest they’ll be, while the more dishonest acts they make, and the more they will cheat. Moreover, our cheating or not cheating tendencies will be reflected in other peoples’ perceptions regardless of how they objectively act.
  • Cheating is increased whenever we associate ourselves with people that cheat and reduced whenever we are in a “tribe” where this act is condemned. From this evidence, we can see how cheating is more of a social activity rather than an individual one.

Big Ideas

Those are the most relevant ideas expressed in the book that we’ll explore together.

  1. Cheating Doesn’t Depend on a Cost-Benefit Analysis
  2. The More You Cheat, The More You Will
  3. Perceived Distance Increases Cheating
  4. When Cheating is Socially Acceptable, it Increases
  5. Understand the Psychology of Cheating to Curb it. 
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Time to learn more about them now!

Big Idea #1: Cheating Doesn’t Depend on a Cost-Benefit Analysis

There is one theory behind human cheating behavior, stating that the typical cheater usually thinks about how much he can gain from the crime, making a simple cost-benefit analysis. 

If the SMRC (Simple Model of Rational Crime) was true, anyway, the frequency of committing crimes would be reduced significantly if the dangers of committing them were risen (to make the costs become greater). 

This would mean that the probability of getting caught would be one of those influencing variables, along with the awareness of the increased expecting punishment. 

Anyway, it has been seen that this theory doesn’t prove to be right as the chances of cheating don’t increase with better potential gains, and the probability of getting caught is not as a big influence in performing cheating behavior as we think. 

A Relatable Example

Two groups of people were asked to solve 20 puzzles in a given time in the so-called “Matrix Test.” For each one puzzle that was solved by each group member, a cash prize would be given to them. 

Moreover, half of that group was given the possibility to lie about their results in order to see how prone they were to cheating.

The first group on average managed to solve 4 out of 20 puzzles, but they told to have solved 6, with a cash prize of $2 for each solution producing a “lying” profit of $4. 

Almost everybody cheated this way as the majority of people tend to cheat a little rather than not cheating at all or cheating big time. 

Then the researchers increased the rewards given to the people who were in the experiment. If the SMRC was true, then everybody would be cheating much more. 

The second time the experiment was done with a $10 promise, cheating activities were decreased, and when the chance to get caught increased, cheating remained the same. 

Big Idea #2: The More You Cheat, The More You Will.

It has been seen how having tendencies to cheat increased cheating amongst people. 

This happens because of the “Fudge Factor” that considers how much dishonesty a person can handle before they perceived their self-image to be impaired; what you repeatedly do, in fact, reinforces your identity. 

This shows how the more you act with integrity and the more honest you’ll be while committing one dishonest act can make us perform other dishonest acts. 

Moreover, the more honest we are, the more we perceive others, to be honest, and the more we cheat, the more we perceive others as cheaters. 

A Relatable Example

With a practical experiment is has been seen how there is a practical correlation between wearing fake clothing and the increase of your cheating behavior. 

The experiment consisted in taking three groups of people and giving a pair of sunglasses to each member of the group. After the pair of sunglasses was given, they had to take a math test.

The first group was given a pair of sunglasses and told that they were real; the cheating rate happened to be 30%. The second group was given a pair of sunglasses; no information about their authenticity was given; the cheating rate happened to be 42%. 

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Finally, a pair of sunglasses was given to the third group and told that they were fake; the cheating rate happened to be a whopping 74%.

Big Idea #3: Perceived Distance Increases Cheating

Another conclusion that the author came to is that the larger the psychological distance between ourselves and the cheating behavior and the more easily we forgive ourselves for cheating. 

This happens many times in various occasions, for example, we all know that stealing money is and feels bad, anyway stealing products that were purchased with money generally seems less of a bad thing because of the psychological distance between the object and money.

That’s why people that could steal between a bag of beer or money generally went for the beer as they perceived it as less bad.

A Relatable Example

Through social research, it has been seen how golfers used to consider themselves as more cheaters if they touched the golf ball themselves without declaring it, rather than touching it with the club and not declaring it. 

Why? Again, the fudge factor made the act seem more personal to them. 

Big Idea #4: When Cheating is Socially Acceptable, it Increases.

We know that because of the “herd effect,” people usually don’t act because they think with their own heads, but they do so mostly based on what the masses do. 

This also happens when somebody is in a dilemma if to cheat or not, so cheating is like an infection, and people look for social cues to see if they can do it or not.

It has been seen how, if you see somebody that you consider an ally of your cheating, due to the human collaborative nature and herd mentality, you’ll be much more likely to cheat. 

When you, instead, see somebody of an “opposite tribe” that cheats, you won’t necessarily associate yourself with him as you don’t perceive him as being part of your friends, and thus, your cheating won’t be associated to the benefit of the group. 

This shows how both cheating and honesty are infectious, and that can get you to find your perfect match with which to share this behavioral trait. 

This happens because we are social animals, and when we get the chance to collaborate, cheating increases as a way to help the group; that’s called “altruistic cheating.”

A Relatable Example

To prove how peer behavior influences cheating, two groups of people were put to solve math problems under different conditions. 

Each problem that was solved gave them some money, like in the previous case. One group the opportunity to cheat was given, and a certain number of people took advantage of this opportunity. 

Then, in another group, the social element was introduced where, during the test, one person stood up at a certain point, screaming that he had finished it, making it blatantly obvious that cheating occurred. After he finished the test, the person got paid in front of everybody. 

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People in that group turned out to cheat much more as they were witnesses of a cheating case. 

Big Idea #5: Understand the Psychology of Cheating to Curb it. 

Cheating seems to be a widespread phenomenon amongst the majority of humans, but since we know it is harmful to our wellbeing, we must find a way to reduce it. How can we? 

It has been found that one way to make this happen is by decreasing the temptation to cheat by reducing the conflict of interest in a situation where people are rewarded for cheating. 

Doctors are a great example to take as, sometimes, they get money rewards from pharmaceutical companies when they prescribe a certain product to their patients. 

There’s a clear conflict of interest in this case, so in order to reduce that, doctors should be prohibited from receiving money from pharmaceutical companies as their job is not selling their products but curing the patients.

A Relatable Example

If you are a shop owner and suspect that there’s somebody stealing money from your cash register, you could adopt the following strategies to avoid that. 

First of all, you could put a lock in the cash register and give the keys to the person you believe to be responsible for cheating. After that, you should incentive the person you believe to be cheating with higher monetary compensation. 

What will happen once you use the following strategies? The stealer will, first of all, feel closer to the dishonest act of stealing as by unlocking the cash register, that person will link the act of stealing to him much more. 

By trusting the person giving him the key to the lock, you will create a more trustworthy environment for that person and so increase his discouragement from stealing from you.

Conclusion & Takeaway

The problem with worldwide cheating is not that there are a few minorities of people causing trouble but that there are many people doing small cheats every day. 

Making even little cheating a socially unacceptable act is what will really make the difference as we don’t rationally do a cost-benefit analysis whenever we have to decide if to cheat or not.

My Advice For You

If you are used to hanging out with people that cheat a lot, stop. Your tribe will influence you in the long run, and if you keep hanging out with the same people every day, you won’t be able to get out of your own negative loop. 

Remember that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

About the Author

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist, author, and professor at Duke University. In 2018 he was appointed one of the most influential psychologists in the world thanks to his fruitful investigations on human irrationality and behavior.

Reading Suggestions

  • “The Upside of Irrationality” – Dan Ariely
  • “Payoff” – Dan Ariely
  • “Dollars and Sense” – Jeff Kreisler
  • “The Undoing Project” – Michael Lewis
  • “Thinking Fast and Slow” – Daniel Kahneman

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Armin is an online entrepreneur and writer in the dating, psychology and spirituality areas of the self-help industry.
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