Mirror, Mirror On the Wall. Who’s the Most Honest Trick-or-Treater of All?

I might have to try this little experiment.

In the most recent edition of “Ask Ariely“, a reader asked behavioral economist Dan Ariely the following question:

For Halloween this year, we are going to leave a plastic jack-o-lantern full of wrapped treats on the doorstep along with a sign that says “Only one piece of candy per trick-or-treater, please.” Is there anything we can do to make sure children follow this rule? —Julie

Since we will be doing something similar, I was quite interested in seeing what solution Dan proposed. Here was his response:

You might be surprised to learn that this isn’t a new question. Back in the 1970s, a study tested if trick-or-treaters would take more candy from an unattended bowl than they were supposed to. Unsurprisingly, the answer was yes. But the researchers found that if they placed a mirror next to the bowl, children were less likely to take too much. Evidently, seeing ourselves increases our sense of self-awareness, which in turn leads to greater pressure to behave honestly. With that in mind, try adding a mirror to your Halloween display this year.

So I already know which mirror I want to use for this, but I just don’t know how if I’ll really be able to tell if it works or not. My plan is to set up two bowls of candy right next to each other, one with the mirror behind it and one without a mirror, and periodically check to see which bowl is emptied out first.

But there could be a couple of things that throw off my experiment:

  • my guess is that most trick or treaters this year will be accompanied by a parent, who will likely be telling their kids to just take one piece of candy, and thus the mirror might have no impact.
  • there is a chance that one of the parents will have read Dan’s column, quickly figure out what’s going on, and purposely foul up my experiment by emptying all of the candy from the mirrored bowl into the other. I guess if that happens, the trick’s on me…

If I learn anything interesting, I’ll share it in a follow-up.

If you don’t hear anything, then you’ll know it’s just one more item I’ve added to my list of Borden’s Bloopers…

25 thoughts on “Mirror, Mirror On the Wall. Who’s the Most Honest Trick-or-Treater of All?

      1. Isn’t that one of the side benefits of taking your kids trick or treating? I assumed quality control was part of the job title.

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  1. We stepped inside to refill our tea and when I came back towards the door I could see through the window, 2 young girls taking all the candy. They ran as I opened the door. I never saw candy get swiped into bags so quickly! Totally wiped us out. Prior to that I was so impressed with the politeness of everyone! We had some trail mix snack size bags from traveling so put them out. No more incidents but I was so shocked!

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