Have you ever purchased a fake Gucci bag, Rolex, or pair of Ray-Bans? New research suggests that wearing knockoffs makes you less honest and more cynical.
Sound far-fetched? I thought so, too, until I read more details. Three psychological scientists have been studying the way fake adornment affects attitudes and behavior — Francesca Gino of Chapel Hill, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, and Dan Ariely of Duke. This article in The Huffington Post discusses some of their findings:
The scientists recruited a large sample of young women and had them wear pricey Chloe sunglasses. The glasses were the real thing, but half the women thought they were wearing knockoffs. They wanted to see if wearing counterfeit shades–a form of dishonesty–might actually make the women act dishonestly in other ways.
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So they had them perform a couple tasks–tasks that presented opportunities for lying and cheating. In one, for example, the women worked on a complicated set of mathematical puzzles–a task they couldn’t possibly complete in the time allowed. When time elapsed, the women were told to score themselves on the honor system–and to take money for each correct score. Unbeknownst to them, the scientists were monitoring both their work and their scoring.
And guess what. The women wearing the fake Chloe shades cheated more–considerably more. Fully 70 percent inflated their performance when they thought nobody was checking on them–and in effect stole cash from the coffer.
The scientists double-checked this result by putting the women through another task — one that made them chose between two answers — the right one and a more profitable one. Once again, the fake-brand-wearing women pocketed the cash.
It didn’t stop there, either. As the scientists continued the study, they discovered that those wearing the fake brand also displayed more cynical attitudes towards others:
Compared to volunteers who were wearing authentic Chloe glasses, those wearing the knockoffs saw other people as more dishonest, less truthful, and more likely to act unethically in business dealings.
Still sounds a bit crazy, but here’s what the scientists concluded from their research:
“Wearing counterfeit glasses not only fails to bolster our ego and self-image the way we hope, it actually undermines our internal sense of authenticity. “Faking it” makes us feel like phonies and cheaters on the inside, and this alienated, counterfeit ‘self’ leads to cheating and cynicism in the real world.”
I can’t help but wonder how it would change things if you aren’t pretending that you’ve got the real thing — I know people who are perfectly candid about their fake bags and jewelry. Regardless, the results do seem to confirm that it’s not just what we think that determines our actions, but how we act that determines what we think.
(Hat tip: Lindsay)