Cheaters might not prosper, but they're in a good mood. According to new research, people don't feel as bad as they should after pulling something sneaky.
In fact, research now published by the American Psychological Association has found people experience a short-term "cheaters' high." Past studies with elements such has electrical shocks show people feel crappy about causing others distress.
But research by authors Nicole Ruedy of the University of Washington and Canadian Ceia Moore of the U.K.'s London Business School asked a subtler question: How would you feel if no one was specifically harmed by your unethical actions.
"Like putting you hand in the cookie jar -- such as tax fraud," Ruedy explains. After breaking set rules -- even when there was no tangible reward -- subjects in both the U.S. and England reported feeling better than those who didn't cheat. The difference in how they thought they should feel, and how they actually felt, is useful, said Moore.
"We have some evidence from additional studies that understanding the harm that one's actions cause will dampen the cheaters' high, so one way to reduce the thrills would be to find ways to make the harm caused by our unethical behaviour more obvious."
For example, governments could make taxpayers aware of how tax fraud impacts the budgets of needed programs.
Or perhaps time is a key. While they tested immediate responses, Ruedy suspects reflection might dull the cheaters' high.