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Health & Balance

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Darkness Spurs Dishonesty

Dim Lighting and Sunglasses Encourage Unethical Behavior in Study
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 19, 2010 -- Dim lighting encourages dishonest and unethical behavior, a new study finds.

In three different experiments, researchers found that people behaved more selfishly and dishonestly when working in a dimly lit room or when wearing sunglasses.

"Our results suggest that darkness, even experienced one-sidedly through the act of wearing sunglasses, can have potentially harmful consequences. Thus, [Ralph Waldo] Emerson may have been correct when he stated that good lamps are the best police," write researcher Chen-Bo Zhong, PhD of the University of Toronto and colleagues in Psychological Science.

Dishonesty Loves Darkness

In the first experiment, researchers found that people working in a dimly lit room were more likely to cheat about their own performance on a task in order to earn more money than people working in a well-lit room.

In two additional experiments, they found that people wearing sunglasses while playing a computer-bargaining game behaved more selfishly than those wearing clear glasses.

Across all three experiments, researchers say darkness did not have any effect on actual anonymity. In each case, the participants were able to clearly see and identify each other.

But people wearing sunglasses reported feeling more anonymous, and in each of the experiments darkness increased dishonesty and unethical behavior.

"We contend that darkness may create a sense of illusory anonymity that disinhibits self-interested and unethical behaviors," the researchers write. "Darkness appears to induce a false sense of concealment, leading people to feel that their identities are hidden."

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