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Dishonest Deeds Result in ‘Cheater’s high’, As Long As No One Gets Hurt

CheatersAlthough people predict they will feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many people actually feel upbeat than remorseful afterward, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“When people do something wrong to harm someone else, for example, apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous studies has been that they would feel bad about their conduct,” said the research’s lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy, from the University of Washington. “Our study suggests people actually might experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after they do something unethical that does not harm someone else directly.”

According to the results of several experiments that involved more than 1,000 participants in England and the U.S., even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn’t cheat. Among all the participants, a little more than half of them were men, with 400 from the general public in their late 20s or early 30s while the rest were in their 20s at universities.

The participants predicted that they or others who cheated on a test or logged more hours than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward they conducted dishonestly. However, when they actually cheated, they generally got a significant emotional boost instead, according to responses to survey that gauged their feelings before and after the experiments.

In one of the experiments, the participants who cheated on logic and math problems were overall happier than those who didn’t and those who didn’t have opportunity to cheat. During the experiment, the participants took their tests on computers in two groups. In one group, when the participants completed an answer, they were moved to the next question automatically. While in the other group, they could click a button on the screen to see the right answer and they were told to disregard the button and solve problems on their own. Graders were able to see who used the correct-answer button and they found that 68 percent of the participants in the second group used the button, which the researchers counted as cheating.

Another study found that people who gained from another person’s misdeeds would feel better on average than those who didn’t.  Researchers from a London university performed an experiment and 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 real participants were told that they would be paid for each puzzle solved within a time limit and the “pretended participant” would grade the test when time was up. In one of the groups, the actor inflated the score when reporting to the experimenter while in the other group, the actor scored the participants as it was. The researchers found that no one in the group with the cheating actor reported the lie.

In another experiment, the researchers requested the participants not to cheat because cheating would make their response unreliable, however, those who cheated were more likely to feel more satisfied afterward than those who didn’t.  What’s more, the cheaters who reminded at the end of the test how important it was not to cheat reported to feel even better on average than those cheaters who were not given such message. The researchers provided the participants with a list of anagrams to unscramble and emphasized that they needed to unscramble them in consecutive order and not move on to the next word until they solved the previous anagram. The third jumble was “unaagt”, which can only spell the word taguan, which is a species of flying squirrel. In the previous tests, very few people can solve this anagram. The experimenters considered anyone who went beyond this word to have cheated and found that more than half of the participants did.

  “The good feeling someone gets when he cheats might be a reason why people are unethical even when the payoff is so small,” Ruedy said. “It is important that we understand how our moral behavior affects our emotions. Future study is needed to examine whether this ‘cheater’s high’ can motivate people to repeat their unethical conduct.”

Source: EurekAlert!
Image source: Shutterstock

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