A new study says that people are more likely to exhibit unethical behaviours like cheating, stealing or lying in the afternoon than in the morning.oskay/Flickr

Afternoon is not a good idea if you are planning something big.  A new study says that people are more likely to exhibit unethical behaviour like cheating, stealing or lying in the afternoon than in the morning.

The study published in Psychological Science found that self-control that helps avoid any kind of dishonest actions was stronger during the morning and diminished during the course of the day, due to various reasons including lack of rest or making repeated decisions.

"As ethics researchers, we had been running experiments examining various unethical behaviors, such as lying, stealing, and cheating," researchers Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard University and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, said in a news release. "We noticed that experiments conducted in the morning seemed to systematically result in lower instances of unethical behavior."

The findings are based on different experiments conducted by the researchers. In the first one, two groups of youngsters - one in the morning and the second one in the afternoon- were asked whether the left side or right side of a computer screen contained more number of dots. Researchers offered bribes to the participants for selecting the right side over the left that contained more dots.  

Results showed that, the tendency to cheat was comparatively low among the morning batch of participants, who took the test between 8 am and 12 pm than the afternoon batch (between 12 pm and 6pm). Researchers termed this tendency as morning morality effect.  

 The same participants were later asked to form words from two word fragments like "_ _RAL" and "E_ _ _ C_ _".  Researchers found that the morning batch of youngsters correctly identified and formed the words "moral" and "ethical" than the afternoon batch of participants who associated them to "coral" and "effects."

Researchers later re-confirmed their results on another set of online participants in United States. Participants lied solving an unsolvable number in the afternoon than in the morning.

Interestingly, the researchers found that moral disengagement - the tendency of people to behave unethically without any guilty consciousness - influenced the effects of morning morality results. According to the authors, people who exhibit a tendency to morally disengage will remain dishonest both in the morning and afternoon. However, people who exhibited fewer tendencies to morally disengage were more likely to be honest in the morning and lie or cheat in the afternoon.

"Unfortunately, the most honest people, such as those less likely to morally disengage, may be the most susceptible to the negative consequences associated with the morning morality effect," the researchers, wrote. "Our findings suggest that mere time of day can lead to a systematic failure of good people to act morally."

The researchers hoped that their findings will help improve values of ethics in organizations or during a business deal. "For instance, organizations may need to be more vigilant about combating the unethical behavior of customers or employees in the afternoon than in the morning," the researchers explained. "Whether you are personally trying to manage your own temptations, or you are a parent, teacher, or leader worried about the unethical behavior of others, our research suggests that it can be important to take something as seemingly mundane as the time of day into account."