The Dark Side of Creativity; Original Thinkers Can be More

The Dark Side of Creativity; Original Thinkers Can be More (PDF)

2022 • 47 Pages • 386.86 KB • English
Posted July 01, 2022 • Submitted by Superman

Visit PDF download

Download PDF To download page

Summary of The Dark Side of Creativity; Original Thinkers Can be More

Copyright © 2011 by Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely Working papers are in draft form. This working paper is distributed for purposes of comment and discussion only. It may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Copies of working papers are available from the author. The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can be More Dishonest Francesca Gino Dan Ariely Working Paper 11-064 Creativity and Dishonesty 1 Running Head: CREATIVITY AND DISHONESTY The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can be More Dishonest Francesca Gino Harvard Business School, Harvard University Dan Ariely Fuqua School of Business, Duke University The authors greatly appreciate the support and facilities of the Center for Decision Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Address correspondence to [email protected] Creativity and Dishonesty 2 Abstract Creativity is a common aspiration for individuals, organizations, and societies. Here, however, we test whether creativity increases dishonesty. We propose that a creative personality and creativity primes promote individuals’ motivation to think outside the box and that this increased motivation leads to unethical behavior. In four studies, we show that participants with creative personalities who scored high on a test measuring divergent thinking tended to cheat more (Study 1); that dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence (Study 2); and that participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly because of their creativity motivation (Study 3) and greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior (Study 4). Finally, a field study constructively replicates these effects and demonstrates that individuals who work in more creative positions are also more morally flexible (Study 5). The results provide evidence for an association between creativity and dishonesty, thus highlighting a dark side of creativity. Key words: creativity, creative thinking, dishonesty, intelligence, unethical behavior Creativity and Dishonesty 3 “Evil always turns up in this world through some genius or other.” - Denis Diderot (1713-1784) The ability to generate novel ideas and think creatively about problems has long been considered an important skill for individuals, as well as for organizations and societies. Individuals’ creative problem solving can generate new products and services, which, in turn, create jobs for others (Sternberg, 1999a; 1999b). Creative thinking allows people to solve problems effectively (Mumford & Gustafson, 1988) and also to remain flexible (Flach, 1990) so that they can cope with the advantages, opportunities, technologies, and changes that are a part of their day-to-day lives (Runco, 2004). Societies need new inventions, original scientific findings, and novel social programs to advance, and organizations need them to adapt to changing environments and succeed in the marketplace (Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Goldenberg & Mazursky, 2001; Goldenberg, Mazursky, & Solomon, 1999). The importance of creativity for both human progress and adaptation is likely one reason why scholars across disciplines have been interested for many decades in understanding how creative thinking occurs and how it can be fostered (Simonton, 2003). Creativity research in psychology has been conducted from different perspectives (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Goldenberg & Mazursky, 2000; Wolfradt & Pretz, 2001). Some work has focused on evaluating the creativity of products and accomplishments (e.g., Amabile, 1983; Baer, Kaufman, & Gentile, 2004; Kaufman, Baer, Cole, & Sexton, 2008; Plucker, & Renzulli, 1999); other work has explored the cognitive and motivational processes that lead to creative ideas (e.g., Friedman & Forster, 2001; Hirt, McDonald, & Melton, 1996; Smith, Ward, & Finke, 1995; Sternberg, 1999a) and the contextual factors that influence creative thinking and problem solving (e.g., Forster, Friedman, & Liberman, 2004; Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000; Markman, Creativity and Dishonesty 4 Lindberg, Kray, & Galinsky, 2007; Maddux & Galinsky, 2009); and still other research has examined the relationship between individuals’ personality and their creativity (Kershner & Ledger, 1985; for reviews, see Feist, 1998, 1999; Simonton, 2000, 2003). Despite their varying focus, these approaches share a basic premise: because creativity improves problem solving and opens doors to new solutions and opportunities, creativity should be stimulated. But is creativity always beneficial? While the positive aspects of creativity have been praised and tested empirically (e.g., Goldenberg & Mazursky, 2001; Sternberg, 1999a, 1999b), it is possible that creative thinking may also have a hidden cost in the form of increased dishonesty. In this paper, we test for this possibility and propose that creativity has a dark side when applied to ethical behavior. Anecdotal evidence hinting at an association between creativity and dishonesty comes from the image of “evil genius” that is often portrayed in movies, novels, comic books, and in the popular media. For instance, in the 1927 movie Metropolis, Fritz Lang brought this archetype to the screen in the form of Rotwang, the scientist whose machines gave life to the dystopian city of the title. Likewise, in the novel Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks, the protagonist is an only child named Cadel Piggott who has an unusual gift for creative thinking and problem solving. Through his creative insight, he creates a world based on evil, full of embezzlement, fraud, disguise and computer hacking. Another well-known evil genius is “Lex” Luthor of comic-book fame, “a power-mad, evil scientist” of high intelligence and technological prowess whose goal is to kill Superman, usually as a stepping stone to world domination. Finally, news articles have recently used the label “evil genius” to refer to Bernard Madoff, who, over many years, made more than $20 billion disappear in a creative Ponzi scheme that pretended to be a hedge fund. Creativity and Dishonesty 5 These examples suggest there could be something about the creative process that triggers dishonest behavior—specifically, that enhancing the motivation to think outside the box can drive individuals toward more dishonest decisions when facing ethical dilemmas. Of course, it could also be the case that dishonest people are more likely to think creatively than are less dishonest ones. Both directions are certainly possible. In this article, we disentangle the causal direction of this relationship and provide the first empirical evidence for the impact of creativity on dishonest behavior. To do so, we conduct five studies using a multi-method approach to investigate whether there is a positive and reliable relationship between creativity and dishonesty. In addition, we examine the psychological mechanisms explaining this link. Creativity and Dishonest Behavior Creativity is defined as the ability to produce ideas that are both novel (i.e., original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e., useful, adaptive to task constraints) (Amabile, 1983, 1988). Over the past several decades, researchers have explored many of the psychological factors that are considered vital to the creative process. These factors include both personal characteristics, such as attraction to complexity or tolerance for ambiguity (Barron & Harrington, 1981; Gough, 1979; Martindale, 1989), and contextual factors, such as deadlines or expected evaluations of creative performance (Amabile, 1979; 1982; Koestner, Ryan, Bernieri, & Holt, 1984; Shalley, 1995; for a review, see Amabile, 1996). Several studies have explored the influence of these factors on creative performance by studying them separately or in combination (e.g., Oldham & Cummings, 1996; Shalley, Zhou, & Oldham, 2004; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). Related research has suggested that two main components underlie creative performance: divergent thinking (Guilford, 1968, 1982) and cognitive flexibility (Spiro & Jehng, 1990). Divergent thinking refers to the ability of individuals to develop original ideas and to envision Creativity and Dishonesty 6 multiple solutions to a given problem. It involves thinking “without boundaries,” or “outside the box” (Thompson, 2008, p. 226). Cognitive flexibility, by contrast, describes the ability of individuals to restructure knowledge in multiple ways depending on changing situational demands (i.e., the complexity of the situation). We propose that high levels of divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility are likely to be associated with dishonest behavior when individuals are motivated to think creatively, either because of their own personalities or because of cues in the surrounding environment. Divergent thinking is likely to help individuals develop original ways to bypass moral rules. Similarly, cognitive flexibility is likely to help them reinterpret available information in a self-serving way (e.g., when justifying their immoral actions or choices). Thus, both a creative personality and creative thinking may lead individuals to relax their ethical standards or moral values, especially when self interest is activated. As an example, consider a person’s process of figuring out what tax deductions he is comfortable with and what lies beyond his ethically acceptable boundaries. A person who is highly creative or has been asked to think creativity about this task may be more likely to identify creative steps to follow and to justify misreporting on taxes in several novel ways. Indeed, as prior research has suggested, creative people are able to perceive and describe what remains hidden from the view of others (Carson, Peterson, & Higgins, 2003), and they are also able to develop original ideas and to envision multiple solutions to a given problem (Guilford, 1968, 1982). Both creative individuals and those motivated to be creative are able to think “without boundaries” or “outside the box” (Thompson, 2008: 226), and they are also able to restructure existing knowledge in multiple ways depending on changing situational demands (Spiro & Jehng, 1990). Creativity and Dishonesty 7 We propose that creativity helps individuals develop original ways to bypass moral rules while allowing them to reinterpret available information in a self-serving way as they attempt to justify their immoral actions. That is, we expect creativity to be positively associated with dishonest behaviors when people face ethical dilemmas (Hypothesis 1). We expect this relationship to hold both in the case of dispositional creativity and in the case of cues or primes activating individuals’ goals to think outside the box. Several studies have demonstrated that various cues can automatically activate certain goal and need states (Chartrand & Bargh, 1996; Schaller, 2003), and that such states can influence perception and behavior without explicit conscious awareness (Bargh, 1990; Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). Similarly, we expect that creativity primes or cues will increase individuals’ motivation to be creative by activating the goal to think outside the box. We propose that the ability to be creative, combined with the motivation to think outside the box, explains the proposed relationship between creative thinking and dishonesty (Hypothesis 2). When their motivation to think outside the box is heightened, individuals may find creative loopholes to solve difficult tasks they are facing, even if that entails crossing ethical boundaries. For instance, in the field of professional legal services, lawyers motivated to think outside the box often end up exploiting the loopholes and ambiguities of the law on behalf of clients, and their “creative compliance” with regulatory requirements undermines the purpose and effectiveness of existing regulations (McBarnet, 1988; McBarnet & Whelan, 1991). In addition, individuals’ heightened motivation to be creative may help them generate various credible reasons to justify their own behavior. Creativity is often assessed using measures of fluency, originality, and flexibility (Guilford, 1967; Torrance, 1966). Fluency refers to the number of non-redundant ideas, insights, or problem solutions generated. Originality refers to the Creativity and Dishonesty 8 uncommonness or infrequency of these ideas, insights, and solutions (Amabile, 1983; Guilford, 1967; Sternberg & Lubart, 1999; Torrance, 1966). Flexibility refers to the use of different cognitive categories and perspectives (Amabile, 1983; Mednick, 1962). When the goal to think outside the box is activated, individuals are likely to produce ideas and solutions characterized by greater fluency, originality, and flexibility. Given their creative mindset, they are likely to be able to produce novel solutions to problems, as well as novel justifications for their actions – even when those actions are unethical. As robustly demonstrated by recent research, when facing the opportunity to behave dishonestly, individuals tend to cheat, if only by a “little bit” (Ayal & Gino, 2011; Gino, Ayal, & Ariely, 2009). Mazar, Amir, and Ariely (2008) explain this tendency to cheat a little bit, but not as much as one possibly could, by proposing that people cheat to some degree to increase their profit, but not so much as to threaten their positive self-concept as honest human beings. When individuals behave dishonestly, a creative mindset is likely to lead them to more freely categorize their own actions in positive terms and avoid negative updating of their moral self-image, as their creativity can allow them to generate novel justifications for their own behavior (Hypothesis 3). Overview of the Present Research We tested our main hypotheses in four laboratory studies in which participants had the opportunity to behave dishonestly by overstating their performance and, as a result, earn more money. Furthermore, we collected field data to examine whether individuals in jobs that require high levels of creativity are also more morally flexible than others. In Studies 1 and 2, we measured creativity as an individual difference and examined whether this personality trait was associated with increased dishonest behavior. In Study 3, we primed cognitions associated with creativity, examined whether they can temporarily promote Creativity and Dishonesty 9 dishonesty, and tested whether the motivation to think outside the box mediates the link between creativity and dishonesty. In Study 4, we explored whether participants who are primed to think creatively, as compared to participants in a control condition, are better able to justify their dishonest behavior and thus are more likely to cheat. Finally, in Study 5, we used field data to explore whether individuals who work in more creative positions are also more morally flexible. Across all five studies, we consistently found that the motivation to think outside the box triggered by a creative personality or creativity prime was associated with greater dishonesty and with a greater ability to justify one’s own unethical actions. Study 1: Effects of a Creative Personality Our first study tests the hypothesis that individuals who naturally have a more creative personality are also more likely to behave dishonestly. Method Participants. Seventy-one students from local universities in the Southeastern United States (37 male; Mage=21, SD=3.44) enrolled in the study for payment. Procedure. Participants were told that the study included two different tasks that had been combined for convenience. The first task was a personality questionnaire, which included measures of creative personality in addition to various filler questions about participants’ habits and their general experience as students. The second task was a visual perception task that has been previously used to measure dishonesty (Gino, Norton, & Ariely, 2010). Participants learned about what this second task entailed only after they completed the first task. In the visual perception task, participants were presented with a square that was divided into two triangles by a diagonal line (see Figure 1 for an example). In each trial, a total of 20 dots appeared inside the square for one second and then disappeared. The dots were distributed between the two triangles, Creativity and Dishonesty 10 and the participants were asked to identify which of the two triangles (right or left) contained more dots by clicking either on a button labeled “more on left” or on a button labeled “more on right.” The instructions participants received explained how the task worked and gave them an example. The instructions informed participants that their task was “to indicate whether there were more dots on the right side of the square or on the left side of the square” in each round. They were also informed that sometimes a dot may be on the box’s diagonal line. Importantly, the payout in each trial was determined by the following rule: For each left decision (“more on left”), participants earned 0.5 cents, while for each right decision (“more on right”), they earned ten times as much (i.e., 5 cents). Using this payment structure, on every trial where there were in fact more dots on the left, the task presented a conflict between providing an accurate answer (indicating left) and profit maximization (indicating right). Thus, this payment structure triggered a motivation to find more dots on the right side, given that participants received the payoff simply on the basis of their responses (“more on the left” or “more on the right”) and not on the basis of accuracy. To make sure participants understood the task, they first played 100 practice trials and received feedback on each trial about what their earnings would be on that trial and cumulatively up to that point if the trials were for real payment. Once the task was clear, participants played 200 trials (which were based on two blocks of 100 identical trials) on which they earned real money. On each trial, they received feedback about their earnings on that trial and on their cumulative earnings up to that point. Given the structure of this task, participants could earn a maximum of $10 on this perceptual task (by always pressing the “more on the right” button), to be added to their $2 show-up fee. Once participants completed this task, they reported their Creativity and Dishonesty 11 performance as indicated on the computer on a collection slip, which they were to hand to the experimenter at the end of the study so they could be paid. We used this task since we wanted to give participants the opportunity to generate reasons to interpret the information they saw on the screen (i.e., the red dots in the square) in a self-serving manner – by convincing themselves that more dots appeared on the right where the payoff was higher. Justification is an important driver of unethical behavior (Bok, 1978; Lewicki & Litterer, 1985; see also Tenbrunsel & Messick, 2004). Schweitzer and Hsee (2002) found evidence consistent with this statement in a study in which sellers of a car provided a buyer with a mileage estimate from a range of possible values. The results indicated that sellers lied to a greater extent when the provided range was wide rather than narrow; they could justify the lie by using their increased uncertainty about the true mileage. Sellers processed the information about the car’s mileage in a self-serving manner, allowing them to gain financially. Our task allows for a similar self-serving justification process. Measures The questionnaire included several measures of creative personality. The first measure was Gough’s creative personality scale (Gough, 1979). This measure asked participants to check all the adjectives that best described them from a list of 30 adjectives. The scoring key was such that participants received a point every time they checked an adjective related to creative personality (e.g., insightful, inventive, original, resourceful, unconventional). The second measure consisted of Hocevar’s creative behavior inventory (Hocevar, 1980). This inventory includes a list of 77 activities and accomplishments that are commonly considered to be creative (e.g., painted an original picture, wrote an original computer program, excluding school or university work). For each item, participants indicated the frequency of the Creativity and Dishonesty 12 behavior in their adolescent and adult life. The scoring rule was to sum up each participant’s ratings for the activities included in the inventory. Finally, the third measure of creative personality was a scale assessing an individual’s creative cognitive style (Kirton, 1976). This scale includes five items (e.g., “I have a lot of creative ideas”; “I prefer tasks that enable me to think creatively”; “I like to do things in an original way”; =.82). Participants indicated the extent to which they agreed with each item using a 7-point scale, ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly agree. The scoring rule was to average each participant’s ratings across the items. Results and Discussion As Table 1 shows, the different measures of creative personality were significantly and positively correlated with one another. Next, we tested our prediction that a creative personality would be associated with high levels of dishonesty. In the perception task, each trial included screens with a different number of dots in the left and right triangles. In 50 of the trials (out of each block of 100), it was clear that one triangle had more dots than the other, while in the remaining 50 trials, it was somewhat ambiguous whether there was a larger number of dots in the left or right triangles. We refer to these trials as “ambiguous,” and we focus on them in our analysis since these are the trials that allowed for self-serving interpretation of the information presented (the position of the dots). In particular, in every ambiguous trial, the participants could benefit from unethical behavior by self-servingly and creatively misinterpreting the ambiguous information they were asked to evaluate. That is, participants could intentionally misrepresent their actual perception of these ambiguous trials and report “more on the right” simply because they realized that by doing so Creativity and Dishonesty 13 they would earn a higher payoff. Thus, these ambiguous trials can be used to measure dishonesty. Our first hypothesis implies an interaction effect between our measures for creative personality and financial motivation (practice with zero reward vs. real trials with real reward) in predicting dishonesty in ambiguous trials. Specifically, we predicted that a creative personality would strengthen the relationship between the presence of rewards and participants’ level of cheating. We first conducted regression analyses to examine whether such interaction was significant. In each regression, we included the measure for creative personality of interest, the type of trials (practice trials vs. trials for real money), and their interaction. The analyses produced consistent results independent of the creativity-personality measure considered. When considering Gough’s creative personality scale, the interaction was significant (Binteraction=-.72 [SE=.18], t=-3.95, p<.001) and the effects of the personality scale and the type of trials (whether the trials involved rewards or were practice trials) were significant as well (BGough=1.00 [SE=.34], t=2.96, p<.01 and Btrials=6.31 [SE=2.28], t=2.76, p<.01, respectively). When considering creative cognitive style, the interaction was also significant (Binteraction=-2.26 [SE=.94], t=-2.41, p<.02), and the two main effects were as well (Bstyle=3.47 [SE=1.71], t=2.03, p<.05 and Btrials=7.25 [SE=3.65], t=1.99, p<.05, respectively). Finally, when considering creative behavior inventory, we found the same results regarding the interaction between this third measure for creative personality and the type of trials (Binteraction=-.04 [SE=.01], t=-2.70, p=.008). In this case, the effect of creative personality was significant (Binventory=.08 [SE=.02], t=3.43, p<.01), while that of type of trials was not (Btrials=2.45 [SE=1.88], t=1.31, p=.19). Creativity and Dishonesty 14 Next, we computed the z-scores for each of the three measures for creative personality. We then averaged the individual scores and created a composite measure of creativity. Using regression analyses, we found a significant interaction between this composite measure for creativity and reward level in predicting dishonesty, Binteraction=3.71 (SE=.92), t=4.06, p<.001. Thus, once participants moved from practice to real trials, they chose right in ambiguous trials more frequently as their scores on the creative-personality scales rose. To better interpret this significant interaction, we examined the simple slopes for the relationships between creative personality, reward level, and dishonesty at one standard deviation above and below the means (Aiken & West, 1991). As Figure 2 shows, the introduction of payment after the practice trials was strongly related to the level of cheating when participants had high scores on our composite measure for creative personality (β=.31, p<.01), but not when they had low scores (β =.02, p=.87). Taken together, these results are consistent with Hypothesis 1 and suggest that participants with a highly creative personality cheated significantly more than participants with less creative personalities. Study 2: Effects of Creativity versus Intelligence Our first study provides evidence for a link between creative personality and dishonesty. Study 2 examines whether creative personality is a better predictor of dishonesty than another dispositional factor often linked to creativity: intelligence. While prior personality research has found a negative relationship between intelligence and academic cheating (Hetherington & Feldman, 1964; Johnson & Gormly, 1971), Sternberg (2001) proposed that there is a dialectical relationship between creativity and intelligence. In his view, intelligence is a necessary condition for creativity, which depends both on generation of novel ideas and critical analysis of novel