Are Creative Crimes Judged Harsher Than Other Unethical Behaviors?

Not all crimes are judged morally equal. In fact, when it comes to committing a crime, a new study by Lynne Vincent, assistant professor of management at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, Scott S. Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California and Francesca Gino of Harvard University found that creative crimes may be judged lightly compared to less creative crimes. The findings are the first to show that the skill or competency of the misdeed can affect the perception of the immorality of the behavior.

In a series of six laboratory studies, the researchers tested participants’ capacity to morally justify and punish a crime, as well as their willingness to replicate the crime, all based on varying levels of creativity used and harm accomplished. The study established that even if transgressions violate the same ethical principles and create equal harm people are less likely to judge creative crimes as severely provided the level of harm was low.

“When dishonest behaviors were judged as creative, people perceived them as being less unethical and suggested less severe punishments,” said Professor Vincent.

More so, creative crimes may also be praised for ingenuity and those who view a crime as less unethical may also breed more social contagion, according to Professor Vincent. Crimes that showed a low level of harm to others but a high level of creativity were considered more likely to be replicated, based on the results of the study.

“The results demonstrate how the characteristics of an unethical behavior can interact to influence the emulation and diffusion of that behavior,” said Professor Vincent. “People rated creative misdeeds more positively, which, in turn, affected how they rated the ethicality of the behavior. They were also more likely to engage in the behavior themselves.”

Arielle Spears