Most people associate cheating with nervousness, feeling immoral, and the fear of getting caught. But according to a new paper
published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, unethical behaviour can actually make people happy and create a “cheater’s high,” as the authors call it.
The study, highlighted in The New York Times, finds that people who cheat on problem-solving tasks feel better than people who play it straight, despite self reporting that they’d feel bad for cheating before the study. The feelings appear to come from a feeling of self-satisfaction or superiority. There’s a sense of having gotten away with something by being clever, which can be very gratifying.
Though the results are surprising, it shouldn’t be interpreted as evidence that people are monsters. The positive effects came from cheating that was victimless.
Even when the authors reminded cheaters that their behaviour is unethical, which you’d expect would make people feel guilty, they experienced a boost to positive emotions (“positive affect” in the chart):
It’s easier than ever to cheat and not see the victim or direct consequences in the age of the Internet. But little cheats add up in the real world. Downloading an illegal piece of software contributes to the $US63 billion that software piracy costs companies each year, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, an accounting fudge contributes to the $US345 billion chasm between actual and reported taxes.
The key for businesses looking to cut down on cheating is to make it very clear that real people and their livelihoods are affected. Seeing that quickly dispels any good feelings for getting away with something for most people.
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