Signing before filling forms makes us more honest than signing at the end

Study in PNAS1, abstract:

Many written forms required by businesses and governments rely on honest reporting. Proof of honest intent is typically provided through signature at the end of, e.g., tax returns or insurance policy forms. Still, people sometimes cheat to advance their financial self-interests—at great costs to society. We test an easy-to-implement method to discourage dishonesty: signing at the beginning rather than at the end of a self-report, thereby reversing the order of the current practice. Using laboratory and field experiments, we find that signing before—rather than after—the opportunity to cheat makes ethics salient when they are needed most and significantly reduces dishonesty.

A natural experiment using this research has been conducted by the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, see here.

  1. Lisa L. Shu, Nina Mazar, Francesca Gino, Dan Ariely, and Max H. Bazerman
    Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end
    PNAS 2012 109: 15197-15200; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1209746109, link