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Image / Editorial

There Is A Biological Reason Why People Cheat


by Jennifer McShane
08th Aug 2015
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Yep, science has yet another take on the reasons why some people are driven to cheat on their partners. A new study has found that hormonal reactions could be the reason why human beings are driven to cheat on their spouses. The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology,?looked at the biological traits underlying unethical behaviour to test the cheating-as-stress-reduction hypothesis, which is the idea that the body increases its production of the reproductive hormone testosterone to regulate and balance out the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone.

The Harvard University and University of Texas, Austin scientists found that not only do high levels of the two hormones mean a person is more likely to engage in a dishonest activity such as fraud or playing away from home, but also that the endocrine-regulation system in the body reinforces bad behaviour.

So, could cheating really be down to biology? Researchers really seem to think so, however, we don’t think playing the ‘my hormones made me do it? card in any way justifies cheating (just FYI).

So how did the researchers figure this out? Basically, they looked into the role our hormones play in the bad decisions we make. As part of their study, they took participants and asked them to complete a math test. Then, participants were asked to self-grade the test and report how many problems they got right. Researchers told participants that the more problems they solved correctly, the more money they would receive. Afterwards, the researchers collected saliva samples from the participants.

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They found that people who had higher levels of testosterone and cortisol were more likely to lie about the number of problems they got right. And in this, going with the assumption that the more you lie, the more likely you are to cheat and lie about this.

?Elevated testosterone decreases the fear of punishment while increasing sensitivity to reward,? said Robert Josephs, UT Austin professor of psychology. ?Elevated cortisol is linked to an uncomfortable state of chronic stress that can be extremely debilitating. Testosterone furnishes this courage to cheat, and elevated cortisol provides a reason to cheat.?

In short, the reproductive hormone testosterone, and the stress hormone cortisol play a two-part role in encouraging and enforcing cheating. Hormone levels will first increase, which makes a person more susceptible to cheating. Then, their hormone levels will change to reinforce the behaviour.

There you have it. It’s certainly a different sort of spin on a much-discussed topic. What do you make of it?