Magazine article Psychology Today

Smooth Criminals

Magazine article Psychology Today

Smooth Criminals

Article excerpt

IN THE MOVIE Ocean's Eleven, we root for an expert band of thieves, technicians, and con men as they attempt to rob Las Vegas casinos. George Clooney and his costars' panache and skill win audiences over, despite their misdeeds. In the real world, we'd dismiss these men as common criminals. Or would we?

According to a recent paper in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, people are more forgiving of creatively executed misdeeds than they are of more conventional ones-at least as long as the transgression is relatively harmless. Study participants read short scenarios and then rated the creativity, unethicality, and deserved punishment of the dishonest behaviors that were described. Subjects judged creative but low-harm violations (such as injecting computers with moneymaking malware that left users unscathed) as less unethical and deserving of lesser penalties than uncreative or malicious crimes. They also indicated that they were more likely to emulate such acts.

'A part of us admires the cheater's creativity or cunning," says study co-author Scott Wiltermuth, who researches unethical behavior at the University of Southern California. …

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