Most people have felt a temptation to cheat at some point in their lives, but often that temptation isn't acted upon. So what is it that makes a person more likely to do it?
According to the findings of a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, you're much more likely to cheat if you feel threatened or anxious.
Maryam Kouchaki of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and her team played either relaxing music or Bernard Herrmann's uneasy Psycho score to 63 students in order to induce feelings of calm or anxiety, respectively. The researchers asked the students how they felt after listening to the music, and those who'd heard the Psycho theme indicated that they felt more anxious and threatened than the others at the end of the study.
The participants next completed a simple computer task for money, for which there was an obvious way to cheat. The non-anxious students made an average of 19 "clear cheats," whereas the anxious ramped this up to 24. The more threatened the anxious felt, the more they cheated.
In other words, the more anxious we feel, the more selfishly we act. When our fight-or-flight instincts are activated, we want to find the quickest way back to a feeling of security — even if that means breaking the rules.
The new findings may not cover more dangerous territory, such as willingness to harm others. Fortunately, previous research has shown that we innately don't want other people to suffer, as we literally feel their pain. But they do suggest that when pressure is placed upon us, we tend to place less value on the idea of fairness — which is important to keep in mind when you're feeling stressed.
(h/t New York Magazine)