What we knew about cheating and its emotional consequences is thrown out of the window in view of a new study’s findings. A study titled, “The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior” debunks the assumption that unethical behavior elicits negative feelings of shame, guilt or anxiety.
The research asserts that people who cheat and are not caught experience a range of positive feelings, ranging from satisfaction and thrill, to accomplishment and contentment. The study comprised of 6 different experiments which all confirmed that cheating induces feelings of accomplishment and delight for the cheater. The assumption that unethical behavior equals negative feelings and ethical behavior equals positive feelings doesn’t hold water.
The researchers found that when people voluntarily perform an unethical act (cheating, deceiving) which doesn’t harm anyone not only doesn’t it make the person feel shameful or guilty, but it in fact elicits positive emotional reactions. The researchers termed this situation, the cheater’s high.
While this study is the first to confirm the association between unethical behavior and the experience positive emotional reactions by the instigator, there are— as the study asserts—various accounts of how unethical behavior triggers feelings of pleasure, accomplishment or delight.
For instance, the irrationality of wealthy people who although can afford certain goods they prefer to shoplift, or people who celebrate their unethical behavior, whether its stealing, fraud or theft are literature examples the study references.
This study echos Ekman’s (2001) “duping delight”, the feeling of joy people get from deceiving others. It also draws on the much-researched, (Mulkens, Smeets, &Thewissen, 2010; Fishbach, 2009; Mann & Ward, 2001) “forbidden fruit” concept that suggests that things that are taboo, inaccessible or illegal, exercise an irresistible allure. People will cheat because they’re not supposed to and there’s the possibility of successfully pulling it out without anyone notice—which makes the prospect of cheating much more enticing.
Two of the six experiments conducted for the study’s purposes focused on how people predicted to feel after unethical behavior. The participants predicted that acting unethically would trigger negative feelings. The study’s findings were astonishingly unexpected. Cheaters who over-reported their performance actually felt better than those who didn’t cheat, hence the cheater’s high coinage. Even more surprisingly, people would still feel accomplished and delighted even if they knew others are aware of their cheating.
The study trying to pinpoint the real explanation of the cheater’s high, conducted several experiments and found that neither financial incentives nor rationalization (not considering a behavior dishonest) is what triggers the cheater’s high. Their findings suggest that the cheater’s high is simply the thrill experienced by managing to get away with a dishonest behavior.
People will cheat if the prospect of getting away with it exists and the impulse to cheat seems to be much more intense than one’s morality and ideals. Exam-taking settings are not always adequately monitored and as such encourage such unethical behavior. Given the study’s findings that such loosely monitored settings are more likely to excite the cheater, ProctorFree believes it’s imperative to remove the conditions that would allow individuals get away with it and as such discourage cheating in the first place.
The 5th study of the research was carried out online, which is an anonymity-favoring environment ideal for a cheating extravaganza. Measures should be taken to dampen the cheater’s high prospect in exam-taking settings.
Knowing the exam environment is being monitored, but not necessarily knowing what aspects of the exam are being monitored is a subtle reminder to the user that cheating would be a very high-risk activity. Think of the eye-in-the-sky security cameras seen in casinos. Exam proctoring can minimize individuals’ urge to cheat and the proper online proctor can reduce much of the risk associated with the delivery of exam content online. Knowing your exam-taking process is effectively and unmistakably monitored, makes you think twice.