The journey from a winner to a cheater could be short as Israeli researchers have found that after a competition is over, winners behave more dishonestly than losers 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,” said one of the researchers Amos Schurr from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
“Our research was focused on who is more likely to subsequently engage in unrelated unethical behaviours – winners or losers?,” Schurr noted.
The research group conducted five studies with students in Israel.
The first two studies demonstrated that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task.
The last study, a post-competition survey, suggested that winners felt a sense of entitlement after besting their opponents in the initial competition, which the researchers said explains why they were more likely to cheat.
In the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers also noted that the subsequent unethical behaviour effect seems to depend on winning, rather than on mere success.
“These findings suggest that the way in which people measure success affects their honesty. 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,” Schurr noted.