01/12/2011 09:07 GMT

Creative Thinkers More Likely To Cheat, Says Study

People who 'think outside the box' might also be thinking themselves into trouble, as creative thinkers are more likely to be dishonest and cheat, a study has revealed.

Researchers from Harvard University found that creative thinkers are better at dreaming up elaborate excuses and justifications for their action.

"Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains," says study researcher Francesca Gino. "But creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks."

The study questioned 97 American students and asked them to complete a series of recognised psychological tests. They were asked to look at drawings with dots on two sides of a diagonal line and had to figure out which side had more dots. The participants were given a monetary incentive when choosing a side, with the right side offering 5 cents and 0.5 cents for the left side.

Creative thinkers chose the side that offered the biggest incentive even though there was no reason for them to believe it was the correct side. Researchers believe that this is scientific proof that imaginative people construct justifications in their mind while cheating, particularly with money.

During another experiment, students were asked to answer a general knowledge test by circling their answers on a test paper. Researchers asked them to transfer their answers onto another test paper that had the correct answers on it. The findings revealed that it was the creative types that took shortcuts by copying the correct answers.

"Being able to generate several original justifications for one's own unethical actions thanks to creativity may lead people to feel licensed to cheat," says Gino.

"The results from the current paper indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas."