get away with cheating when they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty are
more likely to feel upbeat than remorseful afterward, according to new research
published by the American Psychological Association.
people predict they will feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many of
them don't, reports a study published online in APA's Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.
people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an
electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that
they feel bad about their behaviour," said the study's lead author, Nicole
E. Ruedy, of the University of Washington. "Our study reveals people
actually may experience a 'cheater's high' after doing something unethical that
doesn't directly harm someone else."
there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than
those who didn't cheat, according to results of several experiments that
involved more than 1000 people in the US and England. A little more than
half the study participants were men, with 400 from the general public in their
late 20s or early 30s and the rest in their 20s at universities.
predicted that they or someone else who cheated on a test or logged more hours
than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward.
When participants actually cheated, they generally got a significant emotional
boost instead, according to responses to questionnaires that gauged their
feelings before and after several experiments.
experiment, participants who cheated on math and logic problems were overall
happier afterward than those who didn't and those who had no opportunity to
cheat. The participants took tests on computers in two groups. In one group,
when participants completed an answer, they were automatically moved to the
next question. In the other group, participants could click a button on the
screen to see the correct answer, but they were told to disregard the button
and solve the problem on their own. Graders could see who used the
correct-answer button and found that 68% of the participants in that
group did, which the researchers counted as cheating.
gained from another person's misdeeds felt better on average than those who
didn't, another experiment found. Researchers at a London university observed
two groups in which each participant solved math puzzles while in a room with
another person who was pretending to be a participant. The actual participants
were told they would be paid for each puzzle they solved within a time limit
and that the other "participant" would grade the test when the time
was up. In one group, the actor inflated the participant's score when reporting
it to the experimenter. In the other group, the actor scored the participant
accurately. None of the participants in the group with the cheating actor
reported the lie, the authors said.
trial, researchers asked the participants not to cheat because it would make
their responses unreliable, yet those who cheated were more likely to feel more
satisfied afterward than those who didn't. Moreover, the cheaters who were
reminded at the end of the test how important it was not to cheat reported
feeling even better on average than other cheaters who were not given this
message, the authors said. Researchers gave participants a list of anagrams to
unscramble and emphasized that they should unscramble them in consecutive order
and not move on to the next word until the previous anagram was solved. The
third jumble on the list was "unaagt", which can spell only the word 'taguan', a species of flying squirrel.
Previous testing has shown that the likelihood of someone solving this anagram
is minuscule. The graders considered anyone who went beyond the third word to
have cheated and found that more than half the participants did, the authors
good feeling some people get when they cheat may be one reason people are
unethical even when the payoff is small," Ruedy said. "It's important
that we understand how our moral behaviour influences our emotions. Future
research should examine whether this 'cheater's high' could motivate people to
repeat the unethical behaviour."