Cheating makes people feel good

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

cheater remorse
Many people don’t feel that bad after cheating. That doesn’t mean you should do it! It always comes back to bite you when the truth comes out.

How do people feel after they cheat on a test or lie to a boss? Sad? Guilty? Maybe even remorseful? That’s what several individuals think they’ll feel. However, according to researchers from the University of Washington, lying makes people feel good, even if they don’t know it!

The scientists recruited more than 1,000 people and ran them through a series of trials to measure their reactions to being dishonest. Before they got started, the subjects had to answer a question that asked something along the lines of, “How would you feel if you lied or cheated on a test?” Not surprisingly, almost all the participants said it would make them feel bad. “When 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 behavior,” said the study’s lead author, Nicole E. Ruedy, from 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.”

The study involved many different tests. In one trial, participants had to sit in front of a computer and take a math test. For every question, there was a tiny button on the screen that revealed the answer. Of course, the researchers kindly asked the participants not to click on it, but that didn’t stop them! In fact, almost 70 percent of the subjects used the answer button to finish the test! Think they felt bad? Nope. When the test was complete, the stinking cheaters felt great. Moreover, when the tests-takers were reminded after the exams that it was wrong to use the answer button, they felt even better about themselves!

There were even more trials in the study that involved participants solving puzzles, having people lie for them, and cataloging how many hours they worked. The results were the same! As long as no one was hurt, the participants felt good about lying. “The 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 behavior influences our emotions. Future research should examine whether this ‘cheater’s high’ could motivate people to repeat the unethical behavior.”

Of course, just because lying makes people feel good doesn’t mean they should do it! They don’t want to go believing their own lies now, do they?

Featured image courtesy of Mr_Stein on Flickr. Image of student in hallway courtesy of Clarence Fisher on Flickr.