Monday, August 27, 2012

Sign your name at the Top

Individuals less likely to lie if they had to sign at the top of the document instead of at the bottom

The team then partnered with a U.S. automobile insurance company for a real-world experiment. They sent out more than 13,000 policy-review forms, which asked customers to report the current odometer mileage of their cars. Half of the customers received a modified form, where the honesty statement and signature line appeared up top. Comparing these readings with the company's latest records, they found that customers using the sign-at-top form reported driving their cars more than those with the standard sign-at-bottom form. The results suggest customers with the standard form were more willing to report lower mileages to reduce their insurance premiums. 
Seeing the signature up front reminds people of their own moral standards, Mazar explained.

Jason Dana, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, then speculates that the mere novelty of signing a document at the top may explain most of the effect.  Thus, if we were to sign all documents at the top, the novelty would abate and honesty levels would return to normal.  Nevertheless, in a tax self-reporting study, those signing at the top overstated their income only roughly half as much as those signing at the bottom.

When we swear an oath, we usually do so before we give testimony.  Therefore, our oath-taking action should occur prior, and not subsequent, to the speech action.  The positioning of a signature may not matter as long as oath takers direct their attention to the signature first.

Notably, courts employ more than oath-taking to ensure testimony is truthful and reliable.  Courts rely even more heavily on cross-examination, whereby an opposing party questions the witness, to establish the truth of the matter.  I wonder whether non-hostile perusal and questioning of individuals who have filled out forms would further increase the reliability of reporting.

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