"A new study shows that unethical behavior tends to cause not guilt but an emotional boost," reports Jan Hoffman in The New York Times (10/8/13). That most people feel good about cheating is perhaps surprising. "Showing people feeling positively after committing a moral transgression is pretty novel," says Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study. He suspects it may be partly because "we have so many ways to cheat anonymously, especially via the web" and perhaps we also like to congratulate ourselves on our cleverness.
In the study (link), participants were first asked how they would feel after cheating, and most said they would feel "bad." They were then given a "word-unscrambling test," in which they could reward themselves with a dollar for every correct answer. They thought the researchers couldn’t tell if they cheated, and 41 percent of them did – and, "on average" they "felt an emotional boost that the honest participants didn’t." The research team then removed the financial incentive and told participants the results "would correlate with intelligence and a likelihood of future success."
Some of the participants were tempted with a "pop-up message offering them the correct answer," and about "68% of this group cheated at least once." They also "reported a rise in upbeat feelings." In a third trial, subjects were paired with fake participants who "reported the results, elevating the scores, thus cheating for both. But no actual participant objected. And again, they felt just fine about it." The researchers suggest cheating could be deterred by removing "the cloak of anonymity," "undercutting cheating as clever," or instilling that cheating can hurt others.