What's Up With Cheating?

When "bad" behavior feels good

Posted Oct 29, 2013

People who make harmful choices but harbor a good dose of conscience can be helped.  Whether the action was self-destructive or harmful to others, poor judgment is often at play.  Clinically speaking, you can help a person get better if you make destructive behavior ego dystonic (feel bad) rather than ego syntonic (feel good) by how you respond to it. Tough love, truthful interventions, awareness of consequences, discipline, guilt and anxiety can be useful for a happy life.

A traditional psychological thought is that a modicum of guilt and anxiety inhibits self -defeating behavior and guides one to good choices, better feeling and greater success. 

So I was quite surprised the other day when I opened the New York Times and found an article written by Jan Hoffman, “Cheating’s Surprising Thrill, and learned that it now may pay to cheat, not just practically but psychologically.



Cheating now apparently does not feel bad; it feels good! And cheating is not just among a select group of sociopaths but a large portion of the population.  According to Hoffman, cheating is on the rise.  It seems that as long as they do not hurt someone directly, cheaters feel elated, thrilled, self-satisfied, superior and positive about cheating.  The inner voice that warns them to “do the right thing” seems to be waning.

Cheating was always supposed trigger inner angst.  What happened? Has a virtual world made it easier to promote a False Self and therefore other forms of deception?  Are we now much more inclined to try to get away with things? Is relentless striving to get to the top loosening conscience in the culture? 

What happens to those who still play by the rules?  What choices are they supposed to make if they cannot compete against those who get a teacher’s password and change their grade in the system?  

Something is seriously wrong if achievement at all costs is common and ego syntonic (feels good.)

Age-old wisdom from philosophers to preachers to teachers to parents purports that virtue is it’s own reward.  Virtue is linked to mental health. Altruism is considered a high level, healthy defense. What goes around comes around.

Seriously, mental health and inner experience dictate everything. If you sacrificed core values to get to the top, you can suffer no matter how many vintage Porsches or Ivy-league bumper stickers you have. Your ambition can compromise your capacity for other-concern, which can have an impact on the quality of your relationships. And getting caught can destroy everything.