People more likely to cheat if they believe others are doing it too, study

Have you ever cheated?

Birds of a feather flock together, and apparently, so does cheaters.

A study from the HEC Montréal, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Harvard Business School has found that people are more likely to cheat when they are apart of a big group.

Bigger groups “heighten perceptions that cheating is an acceptable social norm”, the experts say.

Because apparently, when people expect that others will cheat, they may be more motivated to convince themselves that doing so is acceptable, to avoid missing out on a share of a prize.  

The researchers performed different experiments, totalling 834 participants – three of which used word unscrambling tasks.  

In one of these three tasks, 327 US participants were randomly put into pools with 10 or 100 competitors. 

They were asked to unscramble, within two minutes, eight-word jumbles – for example, ETRNCA, which can be unscrambled to form the words ‘nectar’ or ‘trance’.

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They were told they’d receive a bonus of $1 if their reported total number of solved word jumbles was within the top 20 per cent of their group. 

But what the participants didn’t know was that the third, fifth, and seventh word jumbles were unsolvable. 

Results showed that participants in the larger pool self-claimed that they had ‘solved’ both a higher number of unsolvable word jumbles and a higher number of total word jumbles. 

Participants in the larger pool also expected a higher absolute number of cheaters in their group (even if the ratio of expected cheaters was similar across both pools).

This in turn made them feel that cheating was more acceptable than those in the smaller pool.

“Having a larger number of competitors increases expectations of the absolute number of cheaters in the competition group, which heightens perceptions that cheating is an acceptable social norm, which leads to more cheating,” the study’s authors claim.