Don’t Remind Criminals They Are Criminals

Psychologists have long argued about the power of priming, i.e the power of subtle cues and reminders to influence behavior.  For instance, there are a number of academic papers that find that if you make a woman write down her name and circle her gender before taking a math test, she will do substantially worse than if she just writes her name.  The idea is that women perceive that they are not good at math, and circling their gender reminds them that they are women and therefore should be bad at math.  I’ve always been skeptical of these results (and indeed failed to replicate them in one study I did with Roland Fryer and John List) because gender is such a powerful part of our identities that it's hard for me to believe that we need to remind women that they are women! 

In an interesting new study, "Bad Boys: The Effect of Criminal Identity on Dishonesty," Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, and Thomas Noll find some fascinating priming effects.  They went into a maximum security prison and had prisoners privately flip coins and then report how many times the coin came up “heads.”  The more “heads” they got, the more money they received.  While the authors can’t tell if any one prisoner is honest or not, they know that on average “heads” comes up half the time, so they can measure in aggregate how much lying there is.  Before the study, they had half the prisoners answer the question “What were you convicted for?” and the other half “How many hours per week do you watch television on average?”  The result: 66 percent “heads” in the treatment where they ask about convictions and “only” 60 percent “heads” in the TV treatment. 

Which City has the Most Dis-Honest Tea Drinkers?

According to an experiment by Honest Tea, it's L.A.

The company has placed unattended racks of its cold bottled tea on street corners in a handful of cities. A sign asks people to pay $1 per bottle, a heavy discount already. Viewers then "watched people wrestle with their conscience." Hidden cameras live-stream the action here.

So far, the citizens of Seattle are coming out as the most honest, with 97% of people paying. Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Cincinnati are in second with 96%. L.A. is last with 87% -- they were actually at 90% earlier today, but that fell as the day went on, and the temperature went up. Here are yesterday's high temperatures for the handful of cities, in order of payment rates:

Keeping Your Pints Honest

Oregon's House recently passed the "Honest Pint Act," which would allow drinking establishments to display state-issued stickers certifying that their pint glasses actually hold 16 ounces, as opposed to the 13- and 14-ounce glasses that some bars try to pass off as pints.

Honesty Reigns on Boxing Day

As always, we try to bring you the best and latest in honor-payment commerce schemes. Here’s one from a town called Settle in North Yorkshire, England: A shopkeeper in North Yorkshire who wanted a day off on Boxing Day decided to leave his store open and let his customers help themselves. Tom Algie, who runs […]

Honest to a Fault

The American Economic Association meetings are taking place. There is a young economist whom I have never met, but who is doing some really interesting research. So I wrote him and asked if he wanted to get together over a beer to talk about his work. The first sentence of his response was: I would […]

This Year’s Business Model: Restaurants Without Food

You may have read earlier stories on this blog about a pay-what-you-wish bakery in Canada, a pay-what-you-wish coffee shop in Washington state, and pay-what-you-wish granola at a Miami supermarket. Here’s another pay-what-you-wish eating story, but in this case, you have to bring your own food. That’s right. On King Island in Tasmania, Australia, there’s an […]

You Find Some, You Lose Some

Several months ago, I blogged about a woman who left her diamond ring in a restaurant washroom for just a short time but lost it forever. Now here’s a story that runs in the opposite direction. Daniel Packer of Mervis Diamond Importers in Tyson’s Corner, Va., wrote in with the details: Last week, someone walked […]

The FREAK-est Links

Receiving a kidney: a personal account. (Earlier) A wonderful meditation on globalization and journalism. Online game’s in-world economist issues his first newsletter. (Earlier) “The Wallet Test” captures honesty on camera. (Earlier)