People are more likely to fill out their taxes and insurance papers more honestly if they are asked to sign the form at the beginning of the process rather than the end, according to new research.
That’s because attesting to the truthfulness of the information before a form is filled out tends to activate people’s moral sense, making it harder for them to lie about their numbers after, researchers at the University of Toronto say.
“Based on our previous research we knew that an honor code is useful, but we were wondering how much the location mattered,” said Nina Mazar, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Mazar and her colleagues conducted three separate experiments for the study. The largest, involving more than 13,000 U.S. auto insurance policy forms with more than 20,000 cars, showed customers who signed at the beginning revealed, on average, a 2,428 miles higher usage than those who signed at the end — more than a 10 percent difference.
The researchers calculated that added up to a $48 or more differential in the annual insurance premium per car.
Previous research has shown that people use various forms of self-deception to avoid facing up to their own dishonest behavior, say the researchers.
But if their self-awareness is triggered before they are presented with an opportunity to lie, they are less likely to do it.
Asking people to sign an honor code afterwards comes “too late,” according to the researchers.
Where the signature is placed likely won’t make a difference to individuals who have no intention of being honest, adds Mazar. But given that in the U.S. there is a $345 billion gap between what people should be paying in taxes and what they claim, it’s “unlikely” the gap is caused “by a few bad apples,” she said.
“There are so many temptations around us,” she said. “Sometimes we do give in.”
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Source: University of Toronto