Behavioural economist Dan Ariely gives a fantastic 15 minute TED lecture on the psychology of cheating that explores numerous fascinating and counter-intuitive influences on how we bend the truth for personal benefit.
Ariely discusses some curious social influences, including the fact that seeing someone else cheat may actually decrease the general cheating of the group, but only if they perceive they are part of a different or rival group. Seeing someone cheat who is part of your ‘in-group’ seems to reliably increase dishonesty.
He also notes various effects of changing the form of the benefit. Simply making the reward tokens that can be exchanged for money, rather than just directly paying, greatly increases cheating, even though the value is identical in both cases.
Ariel does some fascinating research and is the author of Predictably Irrational, an excellent book which I thoroughly recommend.
The talk is similarly enjoyable and Ariely makes links between his own studies on cheating and the current financial meltdown.
Link to Dan Ariely’s TED talk.