Dishonesty and Incompetence

Mark Twain was (and remains) a source of wisdom regarding truth. As he wrote in his “Notebook” in 1898,

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

However, even he may be taken aback by new findings from researchers at Stanford University and the University of Toronto.

What they found could also be be an eye-opener for politicians.

Based on experiments involving 1,500 people, the researchers concluded that that most people associate dishonesty with incompetence. People who lie or cut corners are seen as less capable and less able to complete tasks than those who don’t.

The sole exception are those perceived to be of high social intelligence. When they lie, they are seen as sneaking, conniving and untrustworthy. Is that an improvement over stupid?

I’ve been running through an archive of messages — year end email housecleaning, if you would — and this struck me as a timeless finding that remains highly relevant.

Would people continue to lie if they knew how other people really felt about it?


  1. Jennifer E. Stellar, Robb Willer. Supplemental Material for Unethical and Inept? The Influence of Moral Information on Perceptions of Competence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2018 DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000097.supp
  2. American Psychological Association. “Dishonest individuals perceived as less capable: People view immoral individuals as less able to do their jobs or complete tasks effectively, study says.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 January 2018. <>.


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