Photo/IllutrationExecutives of KYB Corp. and its subsidiary apologize at a news conference in Tokyo on Oct. 19. (The Asahi Shimbun)

In an experiment on human behavior, U.S. university students were instructed to take an arithmetic test, and were given cash prizes according to the number of problems they answered correctly.

But the test was only loosely supervised, and anyone who wanted to cheat could do so.

Before the test, one group of students was asked to list the titles of 10 books they had read in high school, while another group was instructed to write down as many of the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament as they could remember.

“Thou shall not kill” is one principle.

Some students in the former group cheated. But none in the latter group did.

What is interesting is that even students who could remember only one or two of the Commandments did not cheat.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, who conducted this experiment, noted in his book “Predictably Irrational” that just thinking about moral standards can be a sufficient deterrence to cheating.

I was reminded of Ariely’s experiment by yet another case of corporate data-fudging that has come to light.

KYB Corp., a major Japanese hydraulic equipment manufacturer, owned up to falsifying inspection data for its seismic isolation devices that have been installed in many buildings, including government offices and hospitals.

What makes this case so egregious is that at least eight inspectors have been involved in the fraudulent practices since 2003.

The company explained that redoing the tests would have resulted in missed delivery deadlines.

The failure to correct this sort of misplaced “priority” is a repetitive pattern seen in many other cases of corporate wrongdoing.

Being a member of an organization makes one prone to uncritically accepting the “logic” that applies only within that organization.

Everyone needs their own words of self-admonition to remember, and they certainly don’t have to be from the Ten Commandments.

How about this line that Tora-san, the iconic hero of the eponymous movie series, is wont to utter: “Otento-sama wa miteiruze” (God is looking at you).

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.