The Cheater's High: Why it Feels Good to be Unethical

"We were a little appalled" said lead researcher Dr. Nicole E. Ruedy after the team concluded that unethical behavior can trigger "positive affect, which we term a 'cheater’s high.'"

"I hope my research will help you make better decisions and better understand your behavior and the behavior of others," writes Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino on her profile page


And yet, Gino and her colleagues are not feeling so great about the results of a study they just conducted and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

"We were a little appalled" said lead researcher Dr. Nicole E. Ruedy after the team concluded that unethical behavior can trigger "positive affect, which we term a 'cheater’s high.'" In this study, subjects who cheated on different problem-solving tasks predicted that they would feel guilty, but instead felt self-satisfied for getting away with it. 

So what to make of this? Should we lose faith in humanity? "Our results have important implications for models of ethical decision making, moral behavior, and self-regulatory theory," the writers assert. And indeed, being aware that unethical behavior triggers positive affect is the first step to self-regulatory behavior.

In the video below, Gino explores the idea that we tend to have overly positive views of our skills and our competencies when we are making decisions. We end up getting "sidetracked," Gino argues, because "we are too confident in our own abilities."

Watch here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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