This Is Why Cheaters Just Can’t Stop Cheating

People who cheat in exams or games often do it again and again - and there is apparently a scientific explanation for this.

According to a new study, cheaters who reflect on their behaviour have a tendency to selectively forget what they did wrong as time goes by.

In fact, they distance themselves completely from their actions, in a phenomenon called ‘unethical amnesia’.

The research, conducted by a team from the Northwestern University and Francesca Gino of Harvard University, found that unethical actions by an individual became a distant memory - even though the cheating ways of others were clearly remembered.

Researchers asked 70 participants in the study to take part in a coin-toss game where they could easily cheat to win money.

After two weeks the group were asked to answer questions about their memory of the game and what they had for dinner that night.

The study found that 43% admitted to cheating - but their recollection of what they did was unclear, despite knowing exactly what they ate on the same night.

Unethical amnesia: Cheaters often choose to forget their actions over time (Rex/posed by models)

A separate experiment saw 230 people play a game of dice where some were encouraged or discouraged to cheat before playing a word game three days later where cheating to win money was easy.

The researchers found that those who struggled to remember clearly their cheating actions on the first game were even more likely to repeat the same actions on the second.

Explaining the results, the researchers wrote: “After they behave unethically, individuals’ memories of their actions become more obfuscated over time because of the psychological distress and discomfort caused by such misdeeds.

“This unethical amnesia and the alleviation of such dissonance over time are followed by more dishonesty subsequently in the future.”

They added: “These results are particularly important because unethical amnesia can explain why ordinary, good people repeatedly engage in unethical behaviour and also how they distance themselves from such behaviour over time.”

Top pic: Rex/posed by models