The Science Behind Dishonesty
February 9, 2016
The Washington Post — When high profile athletes get caught in cheating scandals, the question on the minds of many is why someone would risk nullifying their past accomplishments for one more win. According to a new study published by BGU’s Dr. Amos Schurr, there is at least one thing that could hint at what drives these people to cheat: They are winners.
“Winning seems to have this strange effect on people,” says Dr. Schurr, a business and organizational behavior lecturer at BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “When people succeed in competition against others, it seems to compromise their ethics. It makes them more likely to cheat afterwards.”
This month, Dr. Schurr, along with Dr. Ilana Ritov of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, published a new study that sheds some light on this hypothesis through a series of experiments, with telling results.
In the first experiment, Dr. Schurr and Dr. Ritov split 86 students into groups of two, and then had them compete against one another in a game in which it was impossible to cheat and had a definitive winner and loser.
Cheating was possible in the second game, however, where the researchers discovered those who had won the first game were more likely to be dishonest. The experiment took the form of a dice game, where one participant threw two dice while the other, unable to see them, waited to hear the outcome.
The person who threw the dice was rewarded with as many coins as he or she rolled; the other, meanwhile, was paid the difference between the maximum possible roll of 12 and what their counterpart had reported.
Those who won the first game claimed to have rolled an average of almost 9, while the losers said they rolled an average of closer to 6.5. “If everybody were honest,” says Dr. Schurr, “the average would have been very close to 7. The winners were clearly inflating their scores – and at the expense of their fellow participants!”
In a second experiment, the researchers showed how even just a memory of winning can induce dishonest behavior, as participants simply asked to recall a time when they had achieved a victory wound up inflating their scores in the dice game as well.
“Dishonestly is a pretty complex phenomenon,” says Dr. Schurr. “There are all sorts of mechanisms behind it. But people who win competitions feel more entitled, and that feeling of entitlement is what predicts dishonesty.”