Forget about the notion of a guilty conscience. Cheating actually feels good, according to a new study.
Breaking the rules dishonestly doesn't result in a guilty feeling. Instead, it gives people what researchers call a “cheaters high,” according to a recent paper by researchers at the University of Washington, London Business School, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. The report, which includes five studies, shows that cheaters tend to perceive the overall experience as a positive one.
The findings may shed some light on the motives behind a series of financial scandals that most simply result from some form of cheating. As the New York Times noted last month, JPMorgan’s London Whale trading loss, the Libor manipulation scandal and the collapse of Peregrine Financial Group all allegedly involve rule breaking.
That's to say nothing of Bernie Madoff, who ran the biggest Ponzi scheme to in U.S. history, cheating investors out of $65 billion before pleading guilty in March 2009.
“Our documented pattern of results helps to explain otherwise puzzling unethical behavior, such as the finding that people often cheat even for trivial sums of money,” the researchers wrote in the report.
Indeed, the paper finds that cheaters, even when suspected, felt better and smarter than non-cheaters. Furthermore, when subjects benefitted from somebody else cheating on their behalf, they likewise felt more positive than those who didn’t get such benefits.