On cheating and Diwali
Originally published in Mint.
Research shows wearing counterfeit products increases the likelihood of behaving dishonestly at gambling parties
The season of the quintessential card (taash) parties is upon us and only the uninitiated would underestimate the gravitas of this exclusive-to-Diwali ritual.
From customized invites to fancy canapés to quirky return gifts, card parties these days are swanky, elaborate affairs. Throwing a classy, standout taash party is a much sought-after skill and the Internet abounds with nuggets of wisdom to host a talk-of-the-town party.
For those questioning gambling’s links with an auspicious occasion like Diwali, here is your quick Sunday trivia: The tradition is rooted in mythology and with the blessings of the goddess Parvati, gambling preceding Diwali is fully legitimate and even considered propitious.
Hence, the run-up to the festival is often packed with card party invitations (often multiple within a night) and it’s not just fun and games. More often than not, there is serious money at stake. But making a killing isn’t just about being skillful at your teen-patti game.
Feeling like a fraud
Not surprisingly, these flamboyant parties merit full attention to looks and appearance. The pressure to stand out and look distinguished is real, making it the perfect time to bring out that brilliant solitaire or the new Hermes bag.
Far beyond the basic purpose of making the wearer look good, such accessories are perfect for signalling your worth to other guests. In other words, luxury goods are powerful tools to individuate (stand out from the crowd and convey uniqueness) and even elevate (to imply that one is better off, more privileged).
But if you see your opponent dangle a Louis Vuitton bag on her arm or perch a classy pair of Burberry sunglasses on her perfectly coiffed mane, it’s time to quickly (and discreetly) check the authenticity of the revered item. Not to call her out and cause a showdown just in case it is, but because your winnings this season depend on it.
Fascinating research by Harvard professor Francesca Gino and colleagues shows that wearing counterfeit products increases the likelihood of behaving dishonestly. Across several experiments, people who wore fake sunglasses or carried fake handbags were found to cheat more. This is because wearing non-genuine items makes people feel less authentic. In other words, feeling like a fraud makes you more likely to commit fraud.
Admit it or not, Diwali parties are a time to show off. While the hosts may strategically display their newly acquired Husain and the intricate Persian rug from their recent holiday, guests may jostle to outdo each other in the jewellery and accessory department.
In an interesting flip side to this show of wealth, research shows that presence of abundant wealth leads to more frequent cheating than an environment of scarcity. Open display of wealth leads to feelings of envy, which in turn increases the likelihood of deception and unethical behaviour.
Nicknamed the “Abundance Effect", across different studies, the authors found that the mere presence of monetary wealth encouraged over-reporting of performance for personal gain.
The ergonomics of cheating
Planning to host a laidback, relaxed party with guests lounging on the rug or the couch as they play? Think again.
Letting them sprawl and stretch may not be such a good idea. A 2013 paper published in Psychological Science examined the impact of posture or bodily configuration on deceptive behaviour.
Researchers found that individuals who assumed wide, expansive postures were more likely to commit unethical acts such as stealing money, cheating on a test and committing traffic violations in a driving simulation.
It turns out that an expansive posture makes one feel more powerful, as explained by Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy in a persuasive TED talk, thus increasing the likelihood of cheating.
The cheater’s high
Don’t count on the fact that your opponents will not cheat at the game simply because they would feel guilty and remorseful afterwards. Most people overestimate the amount of guilt they would experience after cheating.
In other words, cheaters do not feel as bad as we (or they themselves) expect them to. Notice a particularly smug expression on your opponent’s face? Termed as “cheater’s high", a counter-intuitive paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that compared to those who did not, cheaters tend to feel better after committing unethical behaviour.
Cheaters’ high is attributed to the fact that unethical behaviour often bestows additional, undeserved advantage—thus making the cheater feel good. Further, engaging in deceptive behaviour often involves circumventing rules that others are bound by—thus creating a sense of autonomy and power.
So, what’s your best bet at keeping the game fair and fun?
While highlighting a moral code of conduct is a proven way of reducing unethical acts, circulating these at the next card party is a surefire way of getting blacklisted from any invitee list. Be subtle and turn on the lights instead.
Good lighting is the best policeman as bad behaviours are, intuitively, more likely to come out in darkness and dim lighting. Further, keep your opponents well fed, as resource depletion can increase the likelihood of self-interested, deceptive behaviour.
Lastly, enjoy! Remember, that it’s all in the game. May the odds be ever in your favour.