Innovative thinkers are more likely to cheat than their less creative counterparts because creativity increases the ability to make up elaborate explanations to rationalize deceitful actions, according to a new study.

"Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains," wrote lead researcher Dr. Francesca Gino, associate professor of business administration at Harvard University. “But creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks."

In the study, published in the Nov. 28 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Gino and her co-author Dan Ariely, PhD, of Duke University, measured participants’ level of creativity and intelligence by administering a series of psychological tests. After taking the test, participants were then given various lab tasks that were designed to enable cheating.

In one lab task, participants were asked to complete a multiple choice general knowledge quiz with questions like “How far can a kangaroo jump?” and “What is the capital of Italy?” After the quiz, participants were asked to transfer their circled answers to a standardized bubble sheet. After participants were told that they would earn 10 cents for each correct answer, the researcher told participants that she had accidentally photocopied the answer key and that the actual answers were lightly marked on the bubble sheets.

The point of this task was to make participants believe that cheating would be undetectable, when in fact all of the papers that were given to the participants were marked with an individual code that identifies the test taker. The results show that people who scored high in creativity were significantly more likely to cheat when given the task of filling out bubble sheets, and people who scored high in intelligence but low in creativity were not likely to cheat.

In another lab task, participants were asked to look at 200 individual illustrations with dots on two sides of a diagonal line, and were asked to determine with which side had more dots when in actuality, half of the illustrations shown had an equal amount of dots. Participants were rewarded 5 cents for choosing the right side of the line. They were given half a cent for picking the left side of the diagram.

Once again, participants who scored high on creativity were more prone to cheat. Researchers state that the idea of the diagram task was to prove that creative individuals often construct inventive rationalizations in their mind while cheating.

“Being able to generate several original justifications for one's own unethical actions thanks to creativity may lead people to feel licensed to cheat.” Researchers explained.

"Dishonesty and innovation are two of the topics most widely written about in the popular press," 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.”

Gino did not find a relationship between intelligence and dishonesty. In fact, less intelligent people who lacked creativity were also not as likely as those who are had creativity to cheat.