An Extreme Take on The Ten Commandments Experiment

July 1, 2012 BY danariely

We once ran a study on cheating where we asked students to try to recall the Ten Commandments before an exam, and found that this moral reminder deterred them from cheating. Well, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University recently made practical use of the study – but in an extreme way.



Fed up with the low ethical standards among his MBA students, Professor Michael Tang passed out an honor pledge that not only listed the Ten Commandments, but also included a concluding flourish indicating that those who cheated would “be sorry for the rest of [their] life and go to Hell.” In response, several students called the department chair to complain and a good deal of controversy ensued.


But what the news coverage didn’t address (perhaps because no one at the school had) were the merits of this extreme pledge. Might this be an effective way of curbing dishonesty? I think yes, very much so.  I also suspect that even those who don’t believe in God would take this pledge seriously.


Still, though I don’t doubt its effectiveness, the question remains whether we want to invoke such stringent punishments (stringent for those who believe, that is) on an MBA exam. Judging from the reactions in this case, I’m guessing that for most people, the answer is “no.” But it also makes me wonder about the people who didn’t want to sign this pledge….