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Why people cheat uncovered

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Why do people like to cheat?

We all know cheating is morally wrong and should make us feel bad instead of happy. So why are people dishonest? According to a new study, cheating and getting away with it makes people feel good.

Cheater's 'high" could motivate people

Research published by the American Psychological Association found cheaters that don't get caught experience a 'high' from their dishonest deeds. Even those who say they would feel bad from cheating don't, the study authors found.

Lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy, of the University of Washington said in a press release, "Our study reveals people actually may experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after doing something unethical that doesn't directly harm someone else."

Ruedy said past research shows when people do something that harms another person, they typically feel remorse.

The study

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For their experiment, the researchers tested 1,000 people in the U.S. and England.

They discovered when people have an opportunity to cheat, they reported feeling better than study participants who did not act dishonestly or have an opportunity to do so when solving math or logic problems.

In one computer experiment people were asked to take tests. One group had an opportunity to see the answer before moving to the next question, but were asked to solve the questions on their own. A second group had to answer test questions without access to the answers.

Sixty-eight percent of people who could look at the answers cheated, the researchers found.

In a third trial, study participants were simply asked not to cheat in order to keep the results reliable. Afterwards, they were reminded about how important it was to ensure accuracy of the test results.

Study authors say the cheaters reported they felt even better than dishonest participants not given the message.

"The good feeling some people get when they cheat may be one reason people are unethical even when the payoff is small," Ruedy said. She adds understanding how cheating makes people feel is important for understanding unethical human behavior. The finding is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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