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Study: Morning People May Be More Likely to Lie by the Afternoon

A new study suggests your ability to make ethical decisions may depend on the time of day.
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Whether you're a morning person or evening person may very well influence your moral compass, according to a new study.

The findings come from business school professors Brian Gunia, Christopher Barnes, and Sunita Sah, who found a person's chronotype--i.e., whether one feels more alert in the morning versus the evening--may affect when he or she will act more ethically

The research stems from a theory presented by two other business professors called the "morning morality effect." The effect suggests people who feel like they're at their best in the morning behave more ethically earlier on in the day. The longer the day drags on, goes the thinking, the more likely they are to slip into less than ethical behavior.  

This year's findings paint a fuller picture. "An important aspect of this research is not that morning people are more moral, it's actually the match that's the most important thing," says Sah, a co-author on the study and assistant professor of business ethics at Georgetown University. "It's that morning people are more ethical in the morning, but evening people are more ethical in the evening."

Here's how she and her colleagues reached that conclusion: 

According to the Atlantic, the study included two different experiments in which subjects were required to self-report the results. One involved paying subject 50 cents for for each math puzzle they completed within a five-minute span, while the other had subjects roll a die several times. From there, they received lottery tickets in proportion to the dots on the roll. Turns out, many subjects lied to get ahead and did so according to chronotype.

Of course, as with many studies of this kind, don't take the results at face value--or necessarily as a cause for concern over the ethical behavior of your employees. Time of day may be a factor, but surely a person's character to begin with is a much bigger indicator of his or her tendency to be dishonest. Some people aren't going to make ethical decisions, period--no matter what time of day.

But the study may have interesting implications for the timing of significant business events. As the Atlantic argues, the idea of scheduling big decisions at a certain time is not exactly the most logical solution for businesses, given how different everyone feels. But Sah offers a compromise: hold meetings midday, rather than early morning, and professors can do the same for exams. College kids, after all, are night owls by nature, so holding tests later on may curb cheating. 

 

IMAGE: Everett Collection
Last updated: Jul 24, 2014

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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