If one of your buddies tends to win on board game night and has some epic leaderboard scores, watch out for that guy. I’m not saying he could be a cheater: Science is.
It turns out that winners are more likely to cheat at games than people who lose. Ultimately, they feel they deserve to win against other competitors.
Researcher Amos Schurr from Ben-Gurion University Guildford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, along with Professor Ilana Ritov of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, conducted four different experiments. In the first experiment, people played two games, and in the first one, participants couldn’t cheat. Those players were sorted into winners and losers.
Schurr, who spoke by telephone, said the second test was quite telling.“We let half the participants, winners and losers alike, throw dice and told them they could collect money in an amount corresponding to the number that came up on that dice. We also told them we would transfer the rest of the money to another participant who did not throw the dice. But only those who threw the dice could see the outcome of the roll, so they could steal money without being caught. But we did know who won and who lost the previous competition.”
Yup, cheating happened. For the most part, it was the winners who claimed to have rolled higher than they actually did, thus directly cheating their counterpart out of money.
But here’s where it gets interesting. In the second test, the participants were asked to remember either a prior time when they had won a competition or a prior time when they had achieved a goal. There’s a difference: Winning a competition means winning over other contestants; winning a goal means winning an achievement.
Then they were asked to roll dice again. Guess what? The people who remembered winning a competition tended to overclaim their dice rolls, whereas the people who remembered winning a goal did not.
In other words, cheating tends to take place when there’s a competitive element between participants—which leads to a sense of superiority.
According to Schurr, “When success is measured by social comparison, as is the case when winning a competition—and by such a comparison, I mean to the feeling that I’m better than the rest—I learned that the potential for dishonesty increases.”
As for the third and fourth experiments, people played a random lottery and a trivia test. Participants did not overclaim their dice rolls after these two tests.
So what the hell is going on here?
If an athlete or even a gamer “just wants to do better than others, then might be an ethicality issue. But if his goal is just to do his best, then the potential for unethically decreases.” Schurr said. “The way in which people measures success effects their honesty.
“I think that our findings just tell this story that the participants felt more deserving than others and felt better and as a consequence felt more deserving. And if they feel more deserving and have an opportunity to claim, then they overclaim.”
Schurr’s advice to those who want to avoid the slippery slope of jerk-dom? “If they want to play fair, they should focus on goals rather than being better than other players.”
There you have it. Science has confirmed what we’ve suspected all along: Some winners really are losers.
Feature Image Credit: Imgur