Good Lamps are the Best Police: Darkness Increases Dishonesty and Self-Interested Behavior

Posted: 6 Feb 2010 Last revised: 2 Feb 2016

See all articles by Chen-Bo Zhong

Chen-Bo Zhong

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Vanessa K. Bohns

Cornell University

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

Darkness can conceal identity and encourage moral transgressions; it may also induce a psychological feeling of illusory anonymity that disinhibits dishonest and self-interested behavior regardless of actual anonymity. Three experiments provided empirical evidence supporting this prediction. In Experiment 1, participants in a room with slightly dimmed lighting cheated more and thus earned more undeserved money than those in a well-lit room. In Experiment 2, participants wearing sunglasses behaved more selfishly than those wearing clear glasses. Finally, in Experiment 3, an illusory sense of anonymity mediated the relationship between darkness and self-interested behaviors. Across all three experiments, darkness had no bearing on actual anonymity, yet it still increased morally questionable behaviors. We suggest that the experience of darkness, even when subtle, may induce a sense of anonymity that is not proportionate to actual anonymity in a given situation.

Suggested Citation

Zhong, Chen-Bo and Bohns, Vanessa K. and Gino, Francesca, Good Lamps are the Best Police: Darkness Increases Dishonesty and Self-Interested Behavior (2010). Zhong, C., Bohns, V. K. & Gino, F. (2010). Good lamps are the best police: Darkness increases self-interested behavior and dishonesty. Psychological Science, 21, 311-314.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1547980

Chen-Bo Zhong

University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management ( email )

105 St. George Street
Toronto, Ontario M5S 3E6 M5S1S4
Canada

Vanessa K. Bohns (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

394 Ives Faculty Bldg
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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