Evo­lu­tion didn’t shape us to be saints, it shaped us to be adapt­able,” says David DeSteno, a psy­chology pro­fessor at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. Any time we humans think we can get away with some­thing, he says, the temp­ta­tion to deceive increases. In “cheating exper­i­ments” con­ducted in 2007-​​08, DeSteno and col­lab­o­rator Pier­carlo Valdesolo found that 90 per­cent of sub­jects will cheat if they think they’re doing it anony­mously, won’t be caught, and are cer­tain their mis­deed won’t seri­ously hurt anyone. The vast majority of sub­jects “know the action was wrong but will create a story to jus­tify it — to make them­selves appear, at least to them­selves, to be a good person,” he explains. “We have a built-​​in propen­sity to rationalize.”

 

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