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CEOs Who Cheat in Bedroom Will Cheat in Boardroom: Study (bloomberg.com)
179 points by kgwgk 68 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Or to put it another way: people who were dumb enough to use an app to cheat on their spouse were also dumb enough to get caught cheating in other aspects of their life.

They got their data from the Ashley Maddison hack and then cross referenced that with police records of people who got caught. I'm not sure this is a very valid study.

The study appears to have a valid design, subject to some questions not answered in the Bloomberg coverage. I think the more reasonable question is what exactly the design is measuring.

Using the Ashley Madison data is basically what we would call a "reduced form estimate". The idea is that someone in the Ashley Madison data is more likely (or at least not less likely) than a comparable individual not in the Ashley Madison data to cheat on their spouse. They would like to measure whether or not people actually cheat, but they can't, so they measure this instead. This kind of reduced form estimate is a fairly common thing when you can't measure actual treatment compliance, but you can measure an "invitation to treat". We, in fact, know that Ashley Madison wasn't actually used for cheating because there were no (zero) real women on the site. Extensive analyses of the data leak suggest basically that men signed up and were faced with phony bots. But the idea should still be that the choice to sign up on Ashley Madison reveals an attempt to cheat.

The other major challenge for the design is that the control group of CEOs need to have what we would think are baseline similar propensity to commit fraud etc in all respects except for the choice to cheat. So, at the very least I would want to do a matching, weighting, or propensity score design that accounts for differential company characteristics (sector, size, age, any characteristics we would a priori affect propensity to engage in financial malfeasance.) If what we learn is that people who run shady payday loan companies also cheat on their spouses, then this is maybe not interesting. But if what we learn is that among F2000 blue chip companies in similar sectors, cheating spouses are more likely to be cheating CEOs, this is more interesting, right?

I agree with you that it's possible that the degree of difficulty / competence factor might be a confounder. Probably they could compensate for this by looking at something other that rate of conviction for malfeasance, rather by modelling types / degrees of malfeasance and degree of difficulty for getting caught.

Finally, the casual inference here is impossible. So it's possible that they have a good design to answer a question they're not asking. I would assume the default assumption is not that cheating on one's spouse causes one to cheat on financial things, but rather that both are outcomes which flow from an underlying propensity for deceit. In this case, the main takeaway is that early indicators of deceit may allow us to head off or catch financial malfeasance. That's interesting, but maybe not the exact question they're asking.

I'd be really interested in reading the final thing because I could see it going either way. I think it's an interesting proposal for a design. Would love to see a pre-print

> We, in fact, know that Ashley Madison wasn't actually used for cheating because there were no (zero) real women on the site.

There were numerous bots and fake accounts to attempt to make it seem as though there were more women on it, and I'm sure the gender ratio was absurd, but I seriously doubt the number was 0.

Wikipedia discussion of the bots : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashley_Madison#Fake_female_bot...

I seem to recall reading that the number of real live human females available on Ashley Madison was eleven. (There may have been more human females on there, but they were Ashley Madison employees and not available.)

This is my recollection. I can cite no source for evidence.

Dumb enough. Just call it what it is - bad character.

There is no person that is so intelligent that he/she can cheat for long and not eventually get caught. If people want to know the truth about a person badly enough, they will.

> There is no person that is so intelligent that he/she can cheat for long and not eventually get caught.

How do you know? Wouldn't the very best never get caught and therefore we'd never know?

How do you explain all of the unsolved crimes?

Because we didn't have the technology and ability to lookup DNA as cheaply or easily 20+ years ago. I expect unsolved crime to continue to go down as our technology gets better.

But that hasn't been the case. Here's a good example:


The President’s foundations would never have been investigated if he didn't run for office.

Getting “caught” so far has not mattered and only resulted in further consolidation of power. Correlating that so far with infidelity, the only takeaway is that you should put all your mistresses under an NDA, which also wouldn’t have come up if he didn’t run for office resulting in the feds raiding his lawyer’s office and indicting the lawyer due to conduct that became part of the national spotlight! These are things that don’t happen, so all you have to assume is that the President wasn't the genius that invented these tactics and merely used tools available.

The main point I am making here is that this is enough information to rationalize proving an absence:

There are many many people like him at least in an even distribution throughout society. Let alone people with a network of enablers.

Turns out, most of the time people never seek to know the truth about a person that badly, so yes, a lot of people cheat and don’t get caught without needing to be too intelligent.

In fact, cheating has little to do with how intelligent you are and how well you are at containerizing different parts of your life so that they never cross. It is ridiculously easy to cheat if you travel a lot on your own.

Bad character that apparently is a decent winning strategy in the game of genetic reproduction. Sometimes evolution feels like a big prisoner's dilemma.

isn't this sorta like proving the absence of something? surely for all the people who got caught having two families, some never did! fwiw, i also don't think its a good measure of intelligence, i just think some people configure their lives in such a way where they're better able to get away with things.

When I read about people like Nicholas Cage, I come to the conclusion the way people manage relationships is only very loosely tied to intelligence, if at all. Not saying he’s super smart or the opposite, but even Einstein had relationship issues.

Narcissism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism

See also psychopathy and sociopathy.

They studied character not intelligence.

Cheating is not associated with low intelligence but with a corrupt character.

But it could be fun to find similar signals with public data and use that to target those folks in their roles for further scrutiny. Insider risk management sort of thing, before it turns into securities fraud.

Oh yeah that Ashley Madison hack is a gold mine for people who want to blackmail others. So if anything the take away from this should be to check and make sure that if any of your employees have important company data, see if they were in that hack.

Not just Ashley Madison. Okcupid. Tinder. Grindr. That group sex site that was just mentioned on HN [1]. Any dating site that is laissez faire about their data and API access (ie all of them) is a trove of information for building a dataset of morally flexible individuals (when correlated against public records).

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20650069

None of those other sites are even similar to Ashley Madison. There is nothing morally wrong with dating using apps or being gay. But I expect most people to agree that cheating is definitely not morally clear.

In fact, the latter ones are so ubiquitous, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a person in a major US city in their 20s who was single for a period of time in the past 5 years and haven't used one of those apps.

The apps alone are not the signal. The app data combined with other data sources is the signal. It can demonstrate intent.

Intent to what? Date?

Tinder? I’ve never used it but it’s used by a lot of people I know for legitimate dating.

Tinder profile + public marriage record = possible hit. I know married folk who use Tinder (some ethically non-monogamous, some not so ethically), so some human review in your workflow would be required.

From previous experience consuming public record data sources programmatically, a proof of concept would take no more than a full day of work. I am not suggesting one do this, only that pandora's box is already open.

> * use that to target those folks in their roles for further scrutiny. Insider risk management sort of thing, before it turns into securities fraud.*

Or said in one word: blackmail.

There's no sugar coating it. You'd be collecting data points and analyzing them to pursue your own justice without due process. That's quite a dangerous thing to claim to want to do in the name of "insider risk management".

Having been responsible for standing up insider risk management protocols and systems in financial services, this usually occurs at high level executive/senior roles and it's part of your employment agreement that data will be collected and evaluated for the purpose (in a similar sense to an overzealous, continuous background check).

I don't support blackmail in any form, full stop. I do want to know if you're going to embezzle millions of dollars before you do, as do shareholders or customers (if you're managing assets) of the organization.

Isn't that sort of the premise of China's social score/credit experiment?

Also the premise of a Black Mirror episode.

And soon, it will the premise of everyday life in the US. Whoopee!

You sound like a cheater who hasn't been caught... yet. ;)

There is a reason people look into infidelity when doing background checks for sensitive positions. :-)

That said, the conclusion is not surprising. One measure of personal integrity is whether or not a person will do (or not do) what they "promise." This is typically referred to as "keeping your word" in English, the concept is fairly universal in my experience but different cultures refer to it in different ways. From what I have read it is a particularly strong characteristic value in "honor" cultures.

Of course there are 'levels' to these sorts of promises, like "I will be home for dinner tonight" is a much less "serious" vow than "I will forsake all others."[1] And again, in my experience, people I have known have a sort of 'internal measure' of what promises they are willing to break and which ones they aren't. Ethics classes are all over these sort of discussions.

As the marriage vow of fidelity is considered a fairly "strong" vow (high consequence for violating it), it seems reasonable to extrapolate that if someone was willing to violate that promise then mere 'business' promises would be similarly fair game.

Always a good thing to know where your boss stands on such things.

[1] A typical marriage vow promising monogamy.

> There is a reason people look into infidelity when doing background checks for sensitive positions.

That reason is, mostly, vulnerability to blackmail.

So they found that people that exhibit lower ethical and/or moral standards behave with lower ethical or moral standards, which is hardly surprising but it's interesting to see the correlation show up in actual data.

Well, we don’t know about the universality of that, right? Are cheaters more likely to rape? Are boardroom liars more likely to steal your wallet?

For any situation, the statement "I want X" neatly partitions people in two.

Group 1 treats it as a normative statement about the world: "I want X" means they should have X, and arrangements of the world in which they don't have X are ones in which the world has morally wronged them. This injustice means they're owed redress, which makes it morally and socially acceptable to do whatever necessary to take from the world what it wrongly denied them. Anything they do is justified; they're just reclaiming what's already theirs.

Group 2 treats "I want X" as a positive (non-normative) statement about themselves, like "I had toast for breakfast." It may inform their plans and decisions but doesn't justify behavior that's normally unjustified.

Everyone is in (1) some of the time, many are in (1) most of the time, and some are in (1) all the time.

You can see this every day in common, totally mundane scenarios. I guess including the home and the boardroom.

Interesting, is there research on this or is this a personal theory of yours?

It's textbook dark triad entitlement.

Neurotypicals understand that other people exist as separate individuals. Dark triad types are utterly self=centred and only aware of their own desires and interests.

Other people either satisfy their desires or hinder them - sometimes actively, sometimes just because they're randomly in the way.

The person who frustrates - or even just distracts - a dark triad individual is considered evil. They must be removed, humiliated, punished, or destroyed in some other way.

Just a theory.

A random example (which doesn't hinge on legal vs. right, although it seems to): It's illegal in some U.S. states to change lanes across a solid white divider when driving, especially if you're about to make a turn.

There are intersections where the turn lane's solid section is so long, and the block before the intersection is so short, it's basically impossible to merge where it's legal. Especially with any traffic, there's just no time to cross before the solid.

But there's room! Once you're in the solid zone, there's no one blocking you.

Merging there would be illegal. There's the fully legal option to wait at the light, then go on straight, then turn at a block down the road where the solid is short.

But that's inconvenient. You want to get home. But merging here would be illegal.

But you want to.

So people partition.

'Finance professors at the University of Texas at Austin and Emory University ...examined four groups of users specifically -- a total of 11,000 brokers, corporate executives, white-collar criminals and police officers. Cross-checking against public records, they found that those Ashley Madison customers generally were more than twice as likely to have violated professional codes of conduct compared with a control group, according to authors John Griffin, Samuel Kruger and Gonzalo Maturana.' How did they extrapolate CEO's as cheats from this? CEO's have ample time, money and excuses to arrange affairs without resorting to dating apps. They are probably the most attractive people to have an affair with for many people...

It seems to me that CEOs are often hired specifically for their ability to cheat and get away with it.

I remember a study conducted by the military to determine what characteristics predicted leadership. Ultimately it concluded that the ability to tell a believable lie had the best correlation. Extrapolate that fun fact as you wish.

Unfortunately, when it comes to leadership, the key word in that sentence is "believable" and not "lie". The vast majority of people are just waiting for someone to come and convince them that the reason they don't get what they want in life is because of "that outsider over there", and not their own shortcomings.

The cheats just figure this out and supply an item which is already in tremendous demand - absolution of responsibility.

Of course, over time the cheats will think they can get away with anything and go on to use this skill in all aspects of their life. And some get caught, but not enough for the cycle to stop repeating. :-)

Your comment forced me to think. People are all imperfect. People in competitive environments are unforgiving. That means covering your shortcoming or mistakes is important, and that's inherently deceptive.

But from here one can conclude that wealthy and powerful people are inherently immoral because otherwise they wouldn't be able to attain and maintain these positions.

I’d suggest reading The Prince.

I'd be interested if you can remember any more details that would help me find this study. I tried searching based on the terms you used here, but didn't find anything that seemed to match.

I wonder if it just has more to do with confidence. I don't think there are any good indicators of someone lying.

> I don't think there are any good indicators of someone lying.

Some people are much better at lying than others. I know because I am absolutely terrible at lying and anybody who knows me reasonably well can tell when I'm lying. And I've come across plenty of people who are great at it.


War is the art of deception and the first casualty of war is the truth.

Confirmation bias - media always reports on bad apples.

Upper management is more likely to cheat in general according to the book Freakonomics.

The section about bagels and that that management where more likely not to pay for their bagels in the honesty basket.

“ Feldman’s bagel business is a great example of the decency and goodness of mankind. After years of delivering bagels, Paul Feldman noticed certain trends, and he gathered data on his bagel sales. This data showed that the smaller offices that he delivered to practiced honesty more often than the bigger offices.”

"Win if you can, Lose if you must, but always cheat." Jesse Ventura via Werner Herzog.

Not entirely surprising. "How you do anything is how you do everything." Or as Barbara Tuchman put it, "Character is fate."

Destiny or fate are parts of the unconscious being played out without being named.

Dan Ariely (the "Predictably Irrational" author) also wrote "The Honest Truth about Dishonesty". There were studies there that showed cheating is a slippery slope. Once you cheat with something small, you're more likely to cheat again about something bigger.

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This might give some reason to care about whether politicians have had affairs. If they can't keep their wedding vows, why should we expect them to keep their oath of office?

I heard they also cheat at golf

Scoundrels are scoundrels. Politicians will also cheat in office who cheat on their spouses, it's been clearly demonstrated. I'm not even sure why a study was needed to confirm this behavior that's been observed in broad daylight for centuries.

Basically morally/ethically compromised folks will cheat everywhere they can.

I’ve never understood the thought that we can separate public and private morality/ethics. I remember during the Bill Clinton hearings, many of his supporters said that just because he is untrustworthy in his private affairs (pun intended), doesn’t mean he is untrustworthy in his public affairs. I’ve heard the exact same line of reasoning being used by Trump supporters.

lol, what about the prime minister? yeah, the new British prime minister

Many of us (I think) don't have a great deal of faith in his character.

This is a surprise?

>If people want to know the truth about a person badly enough, they will.

This is an example of the “just world fallacy.” There are many people so intelligent that they can cheat for so long and not get caught. Look at Michael Jackson. He died innocent in the eyes of the law.

Or look at the Zodiac killer: he’s still out there. Whole lotta people “trying to find the truth about that person”, as you say, and after decades and decades they got nothin’.

The world is not fair or just. Cheaters can cheat and get away with it, and they can do this in perpetuity. To think otherwise is to make a classic logical error.

If people want to know the truth about a person badly enough, they’re fucked. Because the truth is elusive. And the world ain’t fair.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20657322.

Not to veer too far off topic here but Michael Jackson died innocent because he was innocent. He was greatly misunderstood and a fire of experienced racism that was fed by the media. Here's an article you might find interesting:


I believed he was innocent too, until I saw Leaving Neverland: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaving_Neverland

Have you read the huffpost link above and the wiki link of rebuttal below?

So, I've read more and watched the doc. My take, those rebuttals may be accurate but they represent only a slice of what went on. The two stories in the doc may not be 100% credible either, but are quite detailed.

One thing I didn't realize, and which changed my thinking about the subject, was that the kids were alone with him one at a time in a serialized manner. From the descriptions I always thought it was more like a sleepover party atmosphere at Neverland and why I was not inclined to believe the allegations.

Yes. I believed MJ’s innocence too... I so desperately wanted to believe in his innocence because he was such an incredible artist... until I saw the documentary and did more research. He had “child companions” one at a time, alone in his room, with a silent alarm to let him know if anyone approached. That moment of Jimmy Safechuck describing how he cried on the bed as he realized he was no longer Michael’s favorite “companion” was absolutely heart-wrenching to me. It wasn’t a “slumber party atmosphere.” It was a one-on-one predation atmosphere.

To me, Diane Dimond said it best: “Is Michael Jackson the incredible victim of multiple extortion attempts? Or is he simply a man that is a pedophile?”

I can’t believe the amount of MJ truthing in this thread and Im glad you’ve seen the light. I agree that the stories in the doc may not be 100% credible, but Jimmy Safechuck is simply not a Machiavellian personality type, IMO. I strongly believe Safechuck and Robson, strongly believe that MJ was guilty as hell, and thanks for circling back to discuss your findings.

Isn't this out-of-date after the new documentary "Leaving Neverland"?

Looks like a no: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leaving_Neverland#Criticisms_o...

> "[Robson and Safechuck] have previously testified under oath, under intense cross-examination, [have] maintained for twenty years a consistent story about Michael Jackson being innocent, and they come forward and completely change their story. That in itself is discrediting."

Looks more like they realized they could make a bunch of money on a controversial "documentary" without getting hit with a defamation lawsuit, since MJ is dead.

They were kids and changed their mind when they became adults. This is a very common pattern in the behavior of abused people.

> American singer Barbra Streisand spoke in Jackson's defense, saying "his sexual needs were his sexual needs" and that the accusers had been "thrilled" to be with him. She added that the accusers were "both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them".[73]Streisand later apologized and expressed sympathy for the accusers.[74]

What a comment coming from a woman that didn't even want to have a nude picture in the press. Which blew up in her face and is called that the Streisand effect.

Hopefully not too much of a derail, but: the "Streisand effect" had nothing to do with nude photos [0]:

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose 2003 attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California inadvertently drew further public attention to it.

But, today I learned, the name seems to have been coined to describe something else a couple of years later [1]:

Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term in 2005 in relation to a holiday resort issuing a takedown notice to urinal.net (a site dedicated to photographs of urinals) over use of the resort's name.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect#Origin_of_the...

You are completely right, but this sounds to me like this puts Streisand in an even worse position.

Watch the documentary dude. Safechuck and Robson are legit. In addition to the other accusers. MJ was guilty as hell.

They only testified on Michael’s defense team under pressure and duress and witness tampering. Safechuck and Robson are definitely legit.

I'd say MJ has a pretty good case for not guilty by reason of insanity.

And I don't mean that as a jab. I really think he was so messed up by his abusive upbringing and subsequent life that he may not have been fully accountable.

"Affluenza" on steroids.

No dude. He was fully accountable. MJ was a ruthless business negotiatior. He bought the Beatles catalog out from under Paul McCartney’s nose after Paul had given him the idea. He negotiated the most lucrative contract of all time with Thriller. Michael Jackson was absolutely 100% mentally “all there” and fully accountable for his actions. Just because he was a terrible drug addict who molested kids while high as hell does not mean he was innocent, or “not guilty by reason of insanity.” Unless you think drunk drivers should be able to plead “temporary insanity from substance abuse,” there is no insanity defense for Michael Jackson.

Zero insane people have the ability to negotiate contracts like MJ did. Michael was a ruthless and canny businessman and anyone who thinks he was “insane” is not familiar with the absolutely fiendish and dark level of planning he put into his rape career. The dude had silent alarms outside his bedroom. That shows a level of foresight and planning that would get an insanity defense thrown out of court instantly.

in short Michael was guilty as hell and if you watch the documentary I bet you a million dollars you will renounce your “MJ truthing. “

It's not out of date. It merely references a specific case. But, it has little bearing on other cases, those detailed in the documentary.

Thanks for sharing! Great article.

So where does Jeff Bezos fall in this?

Nice, remember when HBR said the shape of your earlobe can signal how good a leader you are?

That's comparing a physical characteristic to a non-physical one. Not even apples to oranges, that's apples to communism. There are possibly some correlations between anatomy and personality characteristics, both those will be weaker. This is literally comparing ethics to ethics.

Hang on let me download my “shocked face generator” app

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