Dan Ariely, a Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, is publishing a book entitled, “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Including Ourselves.” In it, he reveals research he and his colleagues conducted that provides useful insights into the psychological forces which drive lying.
One of the more fascinating revelations is that women who carry fake Louis Vuitton or Tory Burch handbags or wear fake Cartier jewelry, are more likely to lie, cheat or steal than other women.
Could that really be the case? Could handing over $50 for a replica handbag that should really cost $500 or $1,000 really signal deeper moral failings? Doesn’t everyone lie sometimes?
Most of us, Ariely explains, do indeed lie, sometimes. But the research he presents includes the fact that those of us who are willing to wear our lies around our necks (e.g. fake Burberry scarves) or carry them on our arms (e.g. those fake designer bags) are especially untrustworthy.
When you think about it, that makes psychological sense. People who buy knock-offs are willing to lie on multiple levels.
First, they’re willing to cheat the companies who created the designer items—and hold the intellectual property related to them—out of money that’s legitimately due them. Because those companies not only came up with unique—sometimes iconic—designs, they invested in advertising and marketing that made their brands household names. They harnessed genuine creativity and employed lots of people to make that happen.
Second, they’re willing to lie to everyone who gets a glimpse of their fake handbags or necklaces or sunglasses and thinks that they have the style sense, or the money, to select and buy those items. They’re desperate enough for that facade of style—that mask of chic—to break the law to achieve it. And they know what they’re doing isn’t above-board. After all, the fraudulent goods they’re buying are often sold by shady street dealers or fly-by-night websites.
Third—and probably most toxic—they’re able to lie to themselves. Because they can almost forget that they’re perpetrating a bit of a scam whenever they head out with a handbag that fools people into believing they have something they don’t and are something they’re not. They have the ability to think of themselves as entirely upstanding, when they’re ripping off companies who have to report real earnings to real stockholders and make real profits—or really go out of business.
Seen this way, the folks who lie just a little by buying knock-offs sound a little less innocuous than they might, otherwise. Still, though, they aren’t Bernie Madoff—making off with billions and leaving investors bankrupt. They aren’t Clark Rockefeller—the fake Rockefeller who fooled everyone into thinking he was a member of the legendary family.
No, they aren’t. But they are very distant cousins—and there are a lot more of them, capable of doing lots of harm, when taken together. And that’s really the psychological and economic point Ariely is making: Madoff isn’t our real problem. It’s the rest of us. The millions willing to lie and cheat and steal a little add up to a bigger economic and social problem than the outliers who take duplicity to the next level.
So, next time you see the stitching on a Louis Vuitton bag and realize it doesn’t quite look like the real deal, it’s fair to conclude that the person carrying it isn’t quite the real deal, either—and act accordingly.