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Study: Winners more likely to become cheaters

"The subsequent unethical behavior effect seems to depend on winning, rather than on mere success," researchers wrote.
By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 2, 2016 at 11:04 AM

JERUSALEM, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Winning doesn't always bring out the best in people. New research out of Israel shows competition winners are more likely to later engage in dishonest behavior -- to become cheaters.

To test the integrity of competitors, a pair of scientists from two Israeli schools, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University, had 86 volunteer college students pair up and square off in an estimation game.

Each competitor was shown a group of objects on a computer screen for 2.5 seconds, not enough time to count the objects. Competitors offered estimates for the total number of objects, and the closest guess in each pair received a prize.

The pairs of competitors were then asked to play a second game, a dice game. Players were rewarded a fixed cash payout for their scores. But because players independently reported their totals, it was easy to fudge the numbers if one was so inclined, and many were.

Researchers found the winners of the first game were more likely to lie about their dice totals in the second.

The results of the experiments were detailed in the journal PNAS.

When researchers repeated the experiment, but this time with winners and losers being declared randomly in the first game, winners were no more likely to cheat than the losers.

"The subsequent unethical behavior effect seems to depend on winning, rather than on mere success," researchers wrote.

Post-competition surveys suggest winners felt a sense of entitlement after besting their opponents in the initial competition, which researchers say explains why they were more likely to cheat in the second.

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