Dan Ariely: Why People Cheat

Today I bring you a truly fascinating talk about irrationality and cheating. Dan Ariely was a burn patient, with burns over 70% of his body. While recovering in the hospital, the nurses had a common practice of ripping off bandages, rather than removing them slowly. Ariely disagreed with this methodology (preferring slower removal), but didn't have evidence to back his argument up. When he left the hospital, he started doing experiments on pain, to figure out what indeed would be the best method of removing bandages.

But Ariely's work isn't really about's about human behavior (he's a behavioral economist). Ariely turned to the problem of cheating. He performed an experiment in which he handed a paper containing a series of math problems to his test subjects. He had them solve as many problems as they could in a limited time, then asked them to hand the papers back. He counted the correct answers and paid subjects based on the questions they got right (the average was four correct answers, for four dollars).

Then he changed the experiment: he asked people to self-report how many answers they got right...and all of a sudden, on average people were reporting seven correct answers -- a little bit of cheating. Ariely further changed the experiment by increasing the economic incentives (more money per question), altering the risk of being caught (either shredding the papers or not), and so on. What's fascinating is that he found, across the board, that his test subjects were cheating "a little bit," and were insensitive to the economic rewards as well as the risk of being caught. You'll have to watch the talk to hear how it all came out...but let's just say the experiments involved a Personal Fudge Factor, the Ten Commandments, a fake MIT Honor Code, sweatshirts, and atheists swearing on Bibles.

This is the best TED Talk I've seen in a year. It's smart, completely engaging, and it's applicable to our daily lives (as we often have small opportunities to cheat). I think you'll really dig it.

(If you can't see the player, visit the TED site. There's also a high-quality downloadable version of the talk there.)

What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]


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