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Dan Ariely on Cheating and Infidelity

We're big fans of Dan Ariely. His new book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-- Especially Ourselves, focuses on many ways that people lie, cheat, or are otherwise dishonest in their lives. We are honored that he's offered to share an excerpt from his new book with ScienceOfRelationships.com. Enjoy!

Of course, no book about cheating would be complete if it didn’t contain something about adultery and the kinds of complex and intricate subterfuges that extramarital relationships inspire. After all, in the popular vernacular, cheating is practically synonymous with infidelity.

In fact, infidelity can be considered one of the main sources of the world’s most dramatic entertainment. If modern-day adulterers such as Liz Taylor, Prince Charles, Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others hadn’t cheated on their spouses, the tabloid magazine and various entertainment news outlets would probably go belly-up (so to speak).

In terms of the fudge factor theory, infidelity is most likely the prototypical illustration of all the characteristics of dishonesty that we have been talking about. To start with, it is the poster child (or at least one of them) of a behavior that does not stem from a cost-benefit analysis. I also suspect that the tendency toward infidelity depends to a great extent on being able to justify it to ourselves. Starting with one small action (maybe a kiss) is another force that can lead to deeper kinds of involvement over time. Being away from the usual day-to-day routine, for example on a tour or a set, where the social rules are not as clear, can further enhance the ability to self-justify infidelity. And creative people, such as actors, artists, and politicians—all known for a tendency to be unfaithful—are likely to be more adept at spinning stories about why it’s all right or even desirable for them to behave that way. And similar to other types of dishonesty, infidelity is influenced by the actions of those around us. Someone who has a lot of friends and family who have had affairs will likely be influenced by that exposure. With all of this complexity, nuance, and social importance, you might wonder why there isn’t a chapter in this book about infidelity and why this rather fascinating topic is relegated to one small section. The problem is data. I generally like to stick to conclusions I can draw from experiments and data. Conducting experiments on infidelity would be nearly impossible, and the data by their very nature are difficult to estimate. This means that for now we are left to speculate—and only speculate—about infidelity.

You can get The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-- Especially Ourselves here, and check out Dr. Ariely's blog here. His other books include Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic.

See our articles about cheating and infidelity here.

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