Getting to Yes, And

Ethics, Medicine and Human Nature


Dan Ariely

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Kelly talks to noted behavioral scientist Dan Ariely about a new ethics training program called 'The Medical Professionalism Project,' as well as his own fascinating backstory.

You’ve done all these experiments on dishonesty and it’s not that people are oriented to simply be honest or not honest, there are variables that affect whether they are more or less honest?

“Do people cheat more or less the same when the significant other sits next to them? You would think no, but they actually cheat more. In another experiment, we connect individuals to a lie detector and it turns out the lie detector can detect cheating. That's good news. But in another version of the experiment, we connect people to a lie detector, but we say, all the money you make today is not going to go to you, it is going to go to a charity of your choice, your favorite charity. Pick your favorite charity. All the money will go to that. So first question, do people cheat more or less or the same? When the money goes to charity? They cheat more and more. Interestingly, the lie detector stops working. Now why doesn't the lie detector work? The way that lie detector works is that it can detect intention. Yeah, you feel bad. You say, I want more money, but it's wrong. I want more money, but it's wrong. Now what happened? If the money goes to charity, you don't feel wrong about it.”

You also talk about distance and the shorter the distance is between two people, the greater chance someone will be ethical and the more successful the interaction can be.

“So there's actually a very wonderful piece of research about radiologists. They get just x-rays and then they got an x-ray together with the picture of the patient. When they received the x-ray and the picture of the patient, they actually made less errors.”

So what all of this speaks to is that people are not bad or good - but they can be better or worse when they have knowledge about the triggers and conditions that can challenge our ability to do the right thing?

“The reality is that teaching ethics is more like a diet than like reading a book. Compliance and ethics is something we have to deal with all the time. It's not going to go away and just knowing the rules is no guarantee that you will be ethical -  in the same way that knowing that texting and driving is dangerous doesn't stop people from texting and driving. Having a list of rules for compliance doesn't stop us from being non-compliant and new things come up all the time. So just knowing the rules of compliance is not going to help us. But what we need to do is we need to have it at the top of our mind as an important principle and we need to identify the places that we're likely to fail and pay extra attention when we get close to those.”

The Medical Professionalism Project is a unique short film series that aims to revolutionize medical ethics training while exploring the complex expectations, challenges and responsibilities of healthcare professionals.

You can find out more on and follow them on Twitter @medprofproject

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