The Dark Side of Creativity: Original Thinkers Can Be More Dishonest
Executive Summary — Anyone who has spent significant time with artists knows that creative genius often comes with a dark side. This paper offers experimental evidence, specifically with regard to the relationship between creativity and unethical behavior. Research involving four experiments with university students was conducted by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of the Fuqua School of Business. Key concepts include:
- Creative students who showed a natural aptitude for divergent thinking tended to cheat more than linear thinkers.
- Creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence.
- Students who were deliberately induced to think creatively were, in turn, more likely to cheat than those who weren't primed to think outside the box.
- Creative people are more likely to cheat in part because their creativity helps them to come up with ingenious explanations to justify their unethical behavior.
Creativity is a common aspiration for individuals, organizations, and societies. Here, however, we test whether creativity increases dishonesty. We propose that a creative personality and creativity primes promote individuals' motivation to think outside the box and that this increased motivation leads to unethical behavior. In four studies, we show that participants with creative personalities who scored high on a test measuring divergent thinking tended to cheat more (Study 1); that dispositional creativity is a better predictor of unethical behavior than intelligence (Study 2); and that participants who were primed to think creatively were more likely to behave dishonestly because of their creativity motivation (Study 3) and greater ability to justify their dishonest behavior (Study 4). Finally, a field study constructively replicates these effects and demonstrates that individuals who work in more creative positions are also more morally flexible (Study 5). The results provide evidence for an association between creativity and dishonesty, thus highlighting a dark side of creativity.