Sep 26, 2013

Stop Wearing Those "Ray-Bans"

Why do we dress the way we do?

If you're willing to believe Dan Ariely, it has a lot to do with how we want other people to perceive us. In his recent book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, he writes the following: "Although our current sartorial class system is not as rigid as it was in the past, the desire to signal success and individuality is as strong today as ever." (p. 121) Interestingly enough, we don't just try to signal those things to other people -- we tend to self-signal as well. Ariely gives the example of helping a beggar on the streets. Instead of just walking by or giving him some change, you decide to buy him a sandwich. You now interpret this good deed as proof for your amazing character and believe more intensely in your own benevolence, even though this sole act does not define who you are.

So what happens when we deliberately choose to wear fake products, like the "Rolex" watch you bought for 10 Euros at that Italian beach last summer? We're obviously signaling success and wealth to ourselves and those around us, but does it make us more dishonest people if what we wear is a fake rather than the real deal? Ariely and his friends wanted to find out and decided to conduct an experiment using ChloƩ designer sunglasses (you can read all about it in the book). The results of the experiment...
... suggest that wearing a genuine product does not increase our honesty (or at least not by much). But once we knowingly put on a counterfeit product, moral constraints loosen to some degree, making it easier for us to take further steps down the path of dishonesty. (p. 126)
In order to further prove this they tested their subjects again and found strong evidence for the what-the-hell effect in connection with wearing the fake sunglasses:
In terms of the what-the-hell effect, we saw that when it comes to cheating, we behave pretty much the same as we do on diets. Once we start violating our own standards (say, with cheating on diets or for monetary incentives), we are much more likely to abandon further attempts to control our behavior -- and from that point on there is a good chance that we will succumb to the temptation to further misbehave. (p. 131)
According to Prof. Ariely, this only proves the self-signaling effect of our actions, since he finds "evidence that wearing counterfeits colors the way we view ourselves and that once we are painted as cheaters in our own eyes, we start behaving in more dishonest ways." (p. 131)

Is this bag a real Prada?

Ultimately, it didn't only have negative consequences on the person wearing/using the fake product: "In the end, we concluded that counterfeit products not only tend to make us more dishonest; they cause us to view others as less than honest as well. (p. 134)" In other words, a lose-lose situation. You start cheating more and other people see you as a more dishonest person, thus less willing to trust you.

But the most important and crucial observation is made by Ariely at the end of his chapter on wearing fakes...
We tend to forgive people for their first offense with the idea that it is just the first time and everyone makes mistakes. And although this may be true, we should also realize that the first act of dishonesty might be particularly important in shaping the way a person looks at himself and his actions from that point on -- and because of that, the first dishonest act is the most important one to prevent. (p. 137)
Try to remember that the next time you're tempted to buy those "Ray-Bans" at the beach in southern France.

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