We Make Stuff Up. Does That Encourage Dishonesty?

It’s hard to resist an article with a headline like this one in Bloomberg Businessweek: Are Creative People More Dishonest?

The article refers to a a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (available for purchase).

Here’s the juicy bit for AdPulp readers:

The first study featured in the paper uses survey data compiled from 99 employees across 17 departments at an unnamed U.S. advertising agency in the South. The employees were asked to indicate how likely they’d be to engage in various ethically questionable behaviors—everything from stealing office supplies to inflating business expense reports. They also rated the level of creativity required for their specific jobs. (Their answers were cross-checked by evaluations from three top managers, who also rated the creativity of each department). “We found a positive correlation,” says Gino. “The more creativity required on the job, the more unethical behavior was self-reported.”

I haven’t downloaded the study, but I probably will, even though studies in academic journals tend to be very dry. The “agency in the South” is not identified.

So do you think creative people are more dishonest? In a world where everything is subjective, does it help to twist the truth? Is this why scam ads are so prevalent at awards shows–knowing you need to cut some corners to get ahead in this industry?

We make stuff up for a living. Maybe the truth just gets in the way, even when we’re not making ads.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for TalentZoo.com. Dan published the best of his TalentZoo.com columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Ever critical of studies, my question (without even having read the study) is this: Can we really assume the results are indicative of creatives in general or are they more of a reflection of the cultural and environmental influences at the unnamed “agency in the South” where said creatives work?

    • Dan Goldgeier says:

      A great question Hal, and your analysis may be right. I haven’t read the article, but apparently the agency part was only 1 of 5 studies the authors did as the basis for this. It appears that the other 4 were unrelated to the ad agency part. When I have time, I’ll check out the full study, which is downloadable for $12.

  2. Jo Goetz says:

    The series of experiments the authors conducted were very clever.  Not only did they look at ones individual capability of creativity, but in some of the studies they primed the subjects to “think creatively” and when they did they found that people would behave in all sorts of dishonest ways compared to those who were not told to think creatively.   My only problem with this paper is that they did not confirm with the subjects if they actually understood that the “dishonest” behavior was indeed lying.  I mean you would expect that creative people inherently test what the boundaries because they think outside the box (oh so cliche, LOL), but that doesn’t mean that they understand that their behavior is wrong.    Also the study is available for free