TUESDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Creative thinkers are more likely to cheat than those who are less creative, perhaps because being an original thinker increases a person's ability to rationalize their actions, according to a new study.

Harvard and Duke University researchers conducted five experiments to determine whether creative people would cheat in situations where they could justify their dishonesty. The findings appear online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains, but creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks," lead researcher Francesca Gino of Harvard University said in a journal news release.

The participants' creativity and intelligence were tested and they were given a small amount of money just for showing up. In each experiment, they were given tasks or tests where they could get paid more if they took advantage of opportunities for cheating.

The chances to cheat were purposely staged by the researchers, but the participants didn't know that.

The study found that more creative people were much more likely to cheat and that there was no link between intelligence and dishonesty. For example, more intelligent but less creative people were not more likely to cheat.

"Dishonesty and innovation are two of the topics most widely written about in the popular press," the researchers wrote. "Yet, to date, the relationship between creativity and dishonest behavior has not been studied empirically. The results from the current article indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas."

More information

Nemours Foundation has more on children and cheating.