Lying about performance on one task may increase creativity on a subsequent task by making people feel less bound by conventional rules, according to a new study.
"The common saying that 'rules are meant to be broken' is at the root of both creative performance and dishonest behavior," lead researcher Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School said.
"Both creativity and dishonesty, in fact, involve rule breaking," Gino added.
To examine the link between dishonesty and creativity, Gino and colleague Scott Wiltermuth of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California designed a series of experiments that allowed, and even sometimes encouraged, people to cheat.
In the first experiment, for example, participants were presented with a series of number matrices and were tasked with finding two numbers that added up to 10 in each matrix. They were told they would be compensated based on the number of matrices they had been able to solve and were asked to self-report the number they got correct.
Gino and Wiltermuth found that almost 59 percent of the participants cheated by inflating their performance on the matrices in the experiment.
And cheating on the matrices seemed to be associated with a boost to creative thinking - cheaters figured out more of the remote associates than those who didn't cheat.
Subsequent experiments provided further evidence for a link between dishonesty and creativity, revealing that participants showed higher levels of creative thinking according to various measures after they had been induced to cheat on an earlier task.
Additional data suggest that cheating may encourage subsequent creativity by priming participants to be less constrained by rules.
The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.