Making People Sign Forms at the Top May Keep Them Honest

FRIDAY Sept. 21, 2012 -- When people sign their name at the top of a form, they are more likely to fill it out honestly than if they sign at the bottom after it's complete, new research shows.

This suggests that when people sign their name and vouch for the accuracy of the information, their sense of morals is activated, the researchers from the University of Toronto explained. As a result, it is more difficult for them to cheat.

"Based on our previous research we knew that an honor code is useful, but we were wondering how much the location mattered," Nina Mazar, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, said in a university news release.

To investigate this issue, the study authors conducted an analysis of more than 13,000 car insurance policy forms involving 20,000 cars. They found customers who signed the form at the top reported nearly 2,500 miles more usage than those who signed at the bottom. This amounts to a discrepancy of at least $48 per car in annual insurance premiums.

Signing a form at the top first triggers people's self-awareness, making it harder for them to avoid facing their own dishonest behavior, the researchers explained. They noted, however, that people who already know they are going to be honest will be unaffected by when or where they sign their name.

"There are so many temptations around us," Mazar noted. "Sometimes we do give in."

The paper was published online and in the Sept. 18 print issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about competition and cheating.

Posted: September 2012


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