Most of us consider ourselves honest, believing that we wouldn't steal money, or cheat on a test - but what would you do if you found a 100-dollar bill just lying around?
University of Toronto Scarborough researchers show that people will behave badly - if it doesn't involve too much work on their part.
"People are more likely to cheat and make immoral decisions when their transgressions don't involve an explicit action," said Rimma Teper, student and lead author on the study.
"If they can lie by omission, cheat without doing much legwork, or bypass a person's request for help without expressly denying them, they are much more likely to do so."
In one study, participants took a math test on a computer after being warned there were glitches in the system. One group was told if they pressed the space bar, the answer to the question would appear on the screen. The second group was told if they didn't press the enter key within five seconds of seeing a question, the answer would appear.
"People in the second group - those who didn't have to physically press a button to get the answers - were much more likely to cheat," said Professor Michael Inzlicht.
"When people are confronted with actively doing the right thing or the wrong thing, there are a lot of emotions involved - such as guilt and shame - that guide them to make the moral choice. When the transgression is more passive, however, we saw more people doing the wrong thing, and we believe this is because the moral emotions in such situations are probably less intense," Teper said.
"Forcing people to make an active, moral decision - a 'yes' or 'no' to donating, for example - is going to be much more effective than allowing them to passively skip over a request," he said,
The study is published online now in Social Psychological and Personality Science.