New Survey Reveals Employees May Be More Honest in Light Rooms Than Dark Ones

Let there be light! With light, according to a new study, comes honesty.

As for the back story, researchers from the University of Virginia and College of William and Mary investigated how daylight saving time impacts crime rates. Results revealed daylight saving decreased robbery by a staggering 51 percent! Rape decreased by 56 percent and murder by 43 percent. Researchers argued that more lighting increases the likelihood of witnesses identifying criminals.

To take things one step further, Francesca Gino, associate professor of business administration at Harvard University, and her colleagues studied how lighting conditions would impact honesty within organizations.

As described in her Harvard Business Review blog, participants were placed in a dimly lit room or a well-lit one. They were asked to complete 20 math problems with a time constraint. As for the kicker? They received a cash bonus every time they answered a question correctly. In addition, participants scored their own work and paid themselves from a supply of cash they were given. 

Math performance was pretty similar from one group to the other but nearly 61 percent of participants in the dimly lit room cheated; this contrasts the 24 percent of cheaters in a well lit room.

In another study, they wanted to determine if actual lighting levels impacted honesty or it was the perception of lighting levels. Hello, sunglasses! Some participants in this particular study wore a pair of shades while others wore clear glasses. They interacted with a stranger in another room. With six dollars in their pocket to be divided between the participant and stranger, the recipient could determine what he or she kept.

Participants who wore sunglasses were more selfish. They were less likely to give money compared to subjects who wore clear specs. Plus, sunglass participants reported they felt more anonymous during the study.

As for the take-away? It’s not like your boss is going to replace all the conference room lighting with fluorescent bulbs to induce ethical behavior but Gino points out:

“I am not suggesting we flood executives’ offices with light to promote ethical behavior. But we should probably pay more attention to the many ways in which we are in the dark. Our work life is full of such situations: we may feel anonymous when we communicate via e-mail, when we post information online without revealing our identity (hello, internet trolls!), or when we work remotely rather than in the office. So, the next time you are on your computer to chat or text, you may consider raising the blinds and ask the person on the other end to do the same. More generally, being aware of the factors that make you feel you are in the dark will help you follow your moral compass.”