Why Does Cheating Feel So Good?

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Cheating, whether at a boardgame or on our partners, apparently feels better than we might have imagined. (And, here we thought our feelings of guilt over slipping ourselves a couple extra hundo in that Monopoly game were normal.) Some researchers over at the University of Washington investigated how we feel immediately after we pull one over on someone. The answer: pretty darn good.

Scientists have long known that there exists a sort of "cheater's high," triggered when we get away with something we thought we weren't supposed to do. But, in this recent study people were given word and puzzle tests — and were given the opportunity to cheat — sometimes with financial rewards. Many people cheated, but what's most interesting is that, almost all of the time, those who cheated felt better about themselves than those that didn't. The cheaters weren't crippled by guilt — the exact opposite, in fact.

Some of our perspective on cheating has to do with whether we see cheaters operating, and thriving, in our daily lives. When we're exposed to dishonest behavior that pays off, we're more likely to adopt those behaviors ourselves. Apparently, no one wants to be the one honest gal while cheaters are zooming past.

One important factor to take into consideration — lest you fear that all of humanity is seeking out a cheat-induced euphoria — is that no one was visibly harmed by the cheating in this particular study. In a sense, these cheaters believed their behaviors were virtually consequence-free. Perhaps if their cheating had affected others — taken away money from them, for example — we would have seen less bad behavior, and a more negative reaction to it. Another study, please. Inquiring minds want to know. (CNN)