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August 7, 2012

The thrill of breaking the rules: The 'cheater's high'

Daily Briefing

A team of researchers has found that even small acts of dishonesty—like lying on an expense report—can give people an immediate rush that they term a "cheater's high."

Researchers from the University of Washington, London Business School, Harvard Business School, and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a series of experiments into the psychological rewards of breaking the rules.

In one test, subjects were provided with an opportunity to cheat on a self-graded word scramble test. In a survey administered immediately after the experiment, participants who chose to cheat—about 40% of all subjects—reported higher positive feelings, like excitement, and no difference in guilt or other negative feelings than non-cheaters.

According to one researcher, "dodging the rules" is perceived as a sort of challenge, which means that cheating provides a sense of accomplishment, the Wall Street Journal reports (Silverman, "At Work," Wall Street Journal, 8/6).

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