WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – People who get away with cheating feel good about themselves, not remorseful, as long as they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty.
That’s the finding of a new study published by the American Psychological Association.
The researchers conducted experiments on more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and England.
Participants were asked to do a series of tasks or math problems. Some had the opportunity to cheat, while the control group did not.
The results ran counter even to what the participants predicted…they felt good rather than bad when they thought they got away with cheating.
“People actually may experience a ‘cheater’s high’ after doing something unethical that doesn’t directly harm someone else,” said the study’s lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy of the University of Washington.
The participants often reported an emotional boost in questionnaires about their general mood before and after each trial.
In one experiment, people who cheated on math and logic problems were happier afterwards than those who didn’t and those who had no opportunity to cheat.
Another experiment found people felt good when they thought they were benefiting from another person’s misdeeds.
Even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn’t cheat, say the scientists.
Other research has shown that when people think they have caused harm to another person, their emotional state sours.
Ruedy calls the results an important insight into how our moral behavior influences our emotions. “Future research should examine whether this ‘cheater’s high’ could motivate people to repeat the unethical behavior,” she said.