January 28, 2011 10:46 am

Something for the weekend

Creativity is something that many aspire to, it is admired in countless societies and sought after in many organisations. But it would also appear to be linked to the darker side of human nature.

Research suggests that a creative personality encourages an individual to think outside the box which is closely tied to increased personal motivation. And the combination of creativity and motivation would appear to go hand in hand with unethical behaviour.

Francesca Gino an associate professor in the negotiations, organisations and markets unit at Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely a professor of psychology and behavioural economics at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University have discovered over five studies that individuals with high scores on divergent thinking were more likely to behave dishonestly, were more likely to cheat more, had a greater ability to justify their unethical behaviour and also tended to be more morally flexible.

The authors suggest that thinking outside the box allows an individual to “develop original ways to bypass moral rules” and also to interpret information in a self-serving way, thus justifying that immoral decision.

“Thus, both a creative personality and creative thinking may lead individuals to relax their ethical standards or moral values, especially when self interest is activated.”

The academics state that the widespread view that creativity is always a force for good is not necessarily the case and while they acknowledge that there is much to admire in a creative mindset, they also point out that creativity can also lead to morally questionable behaviour.

Moreover, they suggest that creativity is a better indicator of potential dishonest behaviour than it is of intelligence.

Anyone who has ever been wronged values an apology. But when an apology is given, frequently the individual at the receiving end does not feel any better. Why is this?

A team of academics have looked into apologies and what they mean to people and suggest that perhaps they are not as valuable as first anticipated.

David De Cremer, professor of behavioural business ethics at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands with colleagues Chris Reinders Folmer, postdoctoral researcher at Erasmus and Madan Pillutla, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, used a group of volunteers and set up a trust game to try to understand the true value of an apology.

The volunteers were each given €10 and told that if they gave it to a second party the amount would be tripled to €30. The second party would then be asked to divide the money between the pair of them, so that each party could ultimately receive €15. However, the researchers manipulated the game so that the first volunteers only received €5, instead of their anticipated €15.

Whilst some of the volunteers were given an apology for such a cheap offer, the others were told to imagine that they had received an apology. The researchers found that those who imagined their apology valued it far more than those individuals who had actually received an apology.

Prof De Cremer says this points to the fact that individuals are poor at understanding what is needed to resolve conflicts, because although they want an apology, when they do receive one they find it less satisfying than they had predicted.

An apology he says is merely the first step in the reconciliation process, but the apologiser needs to be willing to do something else, something more.

The writers speculate that because individuals imagine that an apology will make them feel better than they actually do, in reality an apology might be better at convincing outside observers that the wrongdoer feels bad, rather than making the wronged party feel better.

The paper is published in Psychological Science.

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