Researchers at the University of Toronto have made a startling discovery: Darkness makes people think they can get away with doing the wrong thing.
Even wearing sunglasses made people feel they could get away with more because they assume others are unaware of what they are doing.
Participants sat in two rooms –one well lit and the other dimly lit– and received a brown envelope containing $10 along with one empty white envelope. They filled out a worksheet with 20 grids, each consisting of 12 three-digit numbers. They had five minutes to find two numbers in each grid that added up to 10. The researchers left it up to the participants to score their own work and for each pair of numbers correctly identified they could keep 50 cents from their supply of money. Whatever money was left, you put in the white envelope.
While there was no difference in actual performance, participants in the darker room cheated more and earned more undeserved money than those in a well-lit room.
In the second experiment, subjects were placed in a “trust” type situation and those wearing the sunglasses behaved more selfishly.
Details in the journal, Psychological Science.
“The experience of darkness,” said the researchers, “may induce a sense of anonymity that is disproportionate from actual anonymity in a given situation.”