Business School Professor Examines 'Cheater's High'

As the unprecedented academic dishonesty case that rocked Harvard last year remains on the minds of students and faculty, a recently published article argues that cheating boosts self-satisfaction.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Harvard Business School associate professor Francesca Gino, along with three colleagues, revealed a trend in which individuals who cheat to solve a problem “consistently experience more positive affect than those who do not.”

The group of researchers set out to address the incorrect assumption “that unethical behavior triggers negative affect,” Gino said.

“People predict that when they cheat, they will feel guilty,” Gino told The Crimson. “What happens instead is when people cheat they feel a boost in positive, rather than negative, affect. And we call this ‘the cheater’s high.’”

The team, which included Nicole E. Ruedy of the University of Washington, Celia Moore of the London Business School, and Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania, released its findings in an article entitled “The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior.

Although the results are groundbreaking, Gino said she anticipated the discoveries. “We expected to find what we found,” she said.

“I think the surprise was in the fact…[that] it seems to be an affect that is very robust and difficult to eliminate,” Gino continued.

Gino called her project “part of a broader research agenda” that she has been working on for years. “One of the areas that I did quite a bit of research on over the last few years is looking at ethical decision-making and more in particular how even good people, people who care about morality, end up engaging in unethical behavior,” Gino said.

Gino added that she and her colleagues hope that with continued research, they may be able to discover methods that encourage individuals to disengage from unethical behavior.

“This research is making me a little bit more reflective and thoughtful in trying to understand what kind of context I can provide to my students so that they are less likely to cheat,” Gino said.