Thursday, May 10, 2012
Improve honesty by moving the signature line to the top of the form
Research suggests the IRS might be able to improve tax payer's honesty by moving the signature line to the top of the form, such that signers declare that they will tell the truth rather than that they have told the truth. The findings, based on several experiments, are published in a the paper, When to Sign on the Dotted Line? Signing First Makes Ethics Salient and Decreases Dishonest Self-Reports, written by Lisa L. Shu, Francesca Gino, and Max H. Bazerman of Harvard Business School, Nina Mazar of the University of Toronto, and Dan Ariely of Duke University.
"A lot of prior work has focused on the consequences of unethical decision-making and the factors that lead people to be unethical," says Lisa Shu, a doctoral candidate in Organizational Behavior at HBS. "This drove us to want to explore the flip side. We know a lot about when and why people cheat based on our lab and field studies; we thought it was now time to examine how to prevent people from cheating."
The key, according to the researchers, lies in increasing ethical salience: inducing people to pay greater attention to their moral standards and examine the integrity of their behavior when it counts the most.
"A signature is a way to highlight the fact that you're about to do something important, and that it's going to be a reflection of the self," says Francesca Gino, an associate professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at HBS. "Attaching a signature to a pledge of honesty is a way of effectively linking identity to morality."