In a series of experiments, a team of researchers found that acts of dishonesty, theft and fraud seem to cause what they term a “cheater’s high.”
The researchers say that cheating may provide not only financial benefits but also ample psychological rewards which may motivate people to behave unethically. Indeed, a recent survey of 500 senior managers by a British whistleblower law firm found that a quarter of respondents saw unethical conduct as a key to success.
In one of the experiments, 179 subjects had to unscramble as many words as they could in a 15 minute period, earning $1 for every completed word. The subjects were provided with an opportunity to cheat—they were given an answer key and allowed to check their answers on their own—and 41% of participants did so. Right after the exercise, participants took a survey that gauged their emotions; cheaters reported higher positive feelings (such as excitement) and no difference in negative feelings (such as guilt) than non-cheaters.