Researchers at Ben-Gurion University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem have found a correlation between winning and cheating. The study titled “Winning A Competition Predicts Dishonest Behavior” published in the journal PNAS suggests that being a winner increases one’s likelihood of becoming a cheater or to act dishonestly in the future.
“We already know that some politicians and business executives will often resort to unethical means to win, for example the recent Volkswagen scandal,” explained Dr. Amos Schurr, who is a researcher of the study, in a press release. “Our research was focused on who is more likely to subsequently engage in unrelated unethical behaviors – winners or losers?”
For their research, the team conducted five different studies. The first two studies showed that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. The third and fourth studies demonstrated that this subsequent unethical behavior effect holds only when winning means performing better than others, but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. The last study suggested that winners felt a sense of entitlement after beating their opponents.
“When success is measured by social comparison, as is the case when winning a competition, dishonesty increases,” Schurr explained. “When success does not involve social comparison, as is the case when meeting a set goal, defined standard or recalling a personal achievement, dishonesty decreases.”
Researchers also claim that the way in which people measure success affects their honesty, so Scientific American writes if they are correct about their claim, organizations – from sport teams to businesses to governments – should focus more on fixed goal, rather than social comparison, to curb corruption and cheating.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of competition in advancing economic growth, technological progress, wealth creation, social mobility, and greater equality. At the same time, however, it is vital to recognize the role of competition in eliciting censurable conduct,” the researchers concluded.
“A greater tendency toward unethicality by winners is likely to impede social mobility and equality, exacerbating disparities in society rather than alleviating them. Finding ways to predict and overcome these tendencies may be a fruitful topic for the future study.”