Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dan Ariely on our buggy moral code

By Darby A.

The band-aid question has been around for many years. Should you rip it fast, or take it slow? Dan Ariely, having experienced first-hand just how important the band-aid question is, takes it into consideration and why we think this way. His talk keeps you entertained with his pain experiments, the interesting results, and his all-around engaging presentation. His outlook on the way our minds work really backs up the statement that people are strange.

Dan Ariely was a burn victim with 70% of his body covered in burns. He had to stay in a hospital for three years, dealing with the pain of renewing bandages. The nurses would always do the pull fast method when it came to burn victims. The pain that Dan felt made him wonder what was actually better, but because he was a patient, and the nurses believed they were doing it the right way, his suggestion was never taken seriously. Well, this stayed with him even after he got out of the hospital. He really wanted to know, so when he was in university, he started to look further into the question by conducting experiments. One of his first experiments was him gathering volunteers and crunching their fingers in vice grips. He would test in all kinds of ways; high intensity with low duration, low intensity with longer duration, breaks, no breaks, and so on. Soon, his experiments were being noticed and the university started to fund them. He began using sound, electric shocks, and pain suits to up the amount of pain and to get clearer results. In the end, he found his answer to the band-aid question. His results showed that if the nurses had peeled the bandages off slowly over a long period of time, it would have been less painful. If they had started with his head, where the most pain occurred, it would benefit him more in the long run, and that if he had been given breaks to recover from the pain that he would have been more comfortable. The fact that the nurses thought they were doing the right thing lead him to another question, a question which goes directly into why we cheat.

Dan became interested in our minds and cheating when ENRON came on the scene. His question lead him to more experiments and tests; these ones being a lot less painful. He started out with a quiz of 20 math questions that needed to be solved, but couldn't be done in the time provided. For each question a person got right they earned a dollar. The average amount handed out was $4. Bit by bit, Dan raised the temptation to cheat. Now, they could shred their papers after they were finished and tell him how many they got correct. The average was now $7 per person. With each experiment, he found that a lot of people cheated, but only a little bit. He started to wonder why that is and found that there were two main forces that compelled people to cheat. One was if they benefited from the cheating and their image of themselves stayed the same, then it was okay to cheat. Another experiment he conducted, to go further into the topic, was a choice between reciting the ten commandments or remembering ten books you had read in high school. He found that the people who chose to recite the Ten Commandments didn't cheat. It wasn't necessarily that this person was religious that made them not cheat, it was the fact that the Ten Commandments reminded them of their own moral codes, and thus, lead them to be honest. Dan conducted many other experiments, each time raising the amount of money and the temptation to cheat. He was getting the same result: a lot of people cheated, but only a little bit. So, he decided to take a different approach. Instead of giving people the money first hand, he gave them the choice to either take the money or to be given a token, which could be traded in for the money, for the amount of correct answers they told him they had. He found that many of the people took the token, even though it was only one step away from being changed into money. He theorizes that people do this because it is the step in between token and money that makes them feel good about themselves, even though they are cheating, because they're not getting the money first thing. The second force that compels people to cheat is the social element. His experiment consisted of all university students of the same school, an actor, and two sweatshirts. He had the actor wear both sweatshirts on different occasions. The one sweatshirt represented the school where all the students went, and the other was of another university in the same area. Everybody was handed the amount of money you would get for all the questions, and asked that they give the extra money back after. The actor, wearing the sweatshirt representing the students, stood up after about a minute saying they were done. The experiment instructor told them they could leave. The students saw that one of "them" had cheated and gotten away with it, and also made them think that because one of "them" had done this that it was acceptable if they did it. Needless to say, most if not all present, cheated. When the actor wore the sweatshirt with the different university on it, the students in the room saw how that student represented their own school and felt that they should represent theirs better. The result being that no one cheated.

Dan Ariely presents a very good argument on the topic that our moral code is buggy. He demonstrates his understanding of the topic through the excessive experiments that he has conducted, and the results that come from them. He uses humour throughout his talk to keep his audience engaged while he is talking about the facts/results that are presented. He connects with his audience through his own experiences concerning the bandage question, and his interesting studies concerning our moral codes in general. When more and more proof is presented, one becomes more and more persuaded by what is being said. Dan has all the proof, results, and experience from his experiments to make us believe what he is presenting to us. Dan Ariely is able to present a topic he is interested in and is able to present it to us in a manner that gets us interested too.

The topic that Dan presents is one many have pondered about, but have not reached too many concise conclusions. He is able to capture the audience's attention, and present the facts to us in an enjoyable and entertaining manner. I would recommend this video because it includes a good speaker, it presents facts that could be interesting to everyone, and gives an entertaining twist to where pain is concerned. Dan Ariely clearly proves that we all have a buggy moral code.

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