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Darkness encourages cheating

Main Article Page | general Topics


Darkness can give an illusion of anonymity and thus encourage dishonest behaviour, says a new study.

Like children playing 'hide and seek' close their eyes and believe that others cannot see them, the joint study by researchers of the University of Toronto here and the University of North Carolina in the US shows that darkness may induce a feeling of illusory anonymity among people and encourage cheating.

Darkness - even wearing a pair of sunglasses - triggers the belief that you are not being watched by others, say researchers Chen-Bo Zhong, Vanessa K. Bohns (from Toronto) and Francesca Gino (from North Carolina) in a Toronto university statement here Tuesday.

The researchers came to this conclusion on the basis of three experiments about the effect of darkness on people's behaviour.

In the first experiment, they put participants in a dimly to well-lit room and gave them a brown envelope containing $10 and an empty white envelope.

The participants were told to finish a worksheet with 20 matrices, each consisting of 12 three-digit numbers. They had five minutes to find two numbers in each matrix that added up to 10.

They were free to score their own work and for each pair of numbers correctly identified they could keep $0.50 from their supply of money.

At the end of the experiment, the participants were told to leave the remainder of their money in the white envelope on their way out.

The researchers found that participants in the slightly dim room cheated more and thus earned more undeserved money than those in a well-lit room.

In the second experiment, some participants wore a pair of sunglasses and others wore clear glasses while interacting with a stranger in a different room.

Each was given $6 to divide between himself or herself and the stranger and could keep what he or she didn't offer. Participants wearing sunglasses behaved more selfishly by giving significantly less than those wearing clear glasses, the researchers found.

In the third experiment, the scientists replicated the second experiment and then measured the extent to which participants felt anonymous during the experiment.

Those wearing sunglasses reported feeling more anonymous during the study.

The three experiments proved that darkness increased morally questionable behaviour, the researchers said, adding that the experience of darkness may induce a sense of anonymity that is disproportionate from actual anonymity.

'Imagine that a person alone in a closed room is deciding whether to lie to a total stranger in an email. Clearly, whether the room is well-lit or not would not affect the person's actual level of anonymity. Nevertheless, darkness may license unethical behaviour in such situations,' said Zhong.

Indo Asian News Service

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