Cheaters may not win, but winners tend to cheat.

By Seriously Science | February 8, 2016 6:00 am
Image: Flickr/Craig Sunter

Image: Flickr/Craig Sunter

What makes people cheat? Is it a desire for public recognition? Or perhaps the prize is just too tempting? Well, according to these scientists, part of the answer might be a sense of entitlement. Here, researchers had participants compete head-to-head in estimating how many objects appeared on a computer screen, with the winners receiving a pair of JVC earbuds. The participants then played a game in which they shook two dice, peeked at the number they added up to (which no one else could see), and received that same number of coins. It turns out that the lucky earbud winners were more likely to lie about the number and pocket more than their due, suggesting that winning the previous competition influenced the participants’ decision to cheat. This, and data from other experiments, led the researchers to conclude that it’s the winners’ feelings of entitlement that led them astray. We, on the other hand, bet it was the JVC earbuds.

Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior.

“Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. Five studies reveal that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers. Studies 1 and 2 demonstrate that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Studies 3a and 3b demonstrate that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, study 4 demonstrates that a possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Winners love winning and losers love money.
NCBI ROFL: Which is better: sexy ladies or money?
Those “cool” kids who picked on you in middle school? Yeah, they’re probably losers as adults.

  • Uncle Al

    Conquerors never apologize; the dead never complain. Remember the Eleventh Commandment (the important One) and keep it wholly: “thou shalt not get caught.”

    36% of 100 randomly chosen psychology papers were not reproducible, Science 349(6251) 943 (2015), doi:10.1126/science.aac4716. (For you Number Line not left behinds, that is 64% failure to be real). Why are we to believe this is not a 2/3 chance of being crap?

    • AG

      The Crusade Against Multiple Regression Analysis :A Conversation With Richard Nisbett

      Indeed, always interpret association very carefully with strong dose of skepticism.

  • X-7

    Nice piece.
    From Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlines”
    Writing about Stalin’s starvation of MILLIONS in the Ukraine in the 1930s:
    “The good people died first. Those who refused to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died.”
    Stalin’s wife of 14 years, Nadya Alliluyeva, mother of his two children, shot herself in the heart; November 8, 1932.


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