Lead author Nicole E. Ruedy of the University of Washington said although people predicted they would feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many didn't.
"When people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that they feel bad about their behavior," Ruedy said in a statement. "Our study reveals people actually might experience a 'cheater's high' after doing something unethical that doesn't directly harm someone else."
Several experiments involving more than 1,000 people in the United States and England found even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn't cheat.
A little more than half the study participants were men, with 400 from the general public in their late 20s or early 30s and the rest in their 20s at universities.
Participants predicted that they or someone else who cheated on a test or logged more hours than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward.
However, when participants actually cheated, they said they generally got a significant emotional boost instead.
In addition, the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, also found people who gained from another person's misdeeds felt better on average than those who didn't.
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