Winners do not cheat more, new study firmly claims

Back in 2016 a team of Israeli researchers claimed that winners were more likely to cheat, but now a new large-scale research led by the University of Leicester has shown that’s not the case and that winning does not cause people to cheat.

The 2016 study claimed that winners of skill-based competitions are more likely to steal money in subsequent games of chance against different opponents, as opposed to losers or people who did not see themselves as winners or losers. This highly-cited study of relatively small sample sizes proposed that competitive winning induces a sense of entitlement that encourages cheating.

The new study by researchers at the University of Leicester (UK) and the University of Southern California (USA) has refuted the original findings and said that people with a strong sense of fairness cheat less – regardless of whether they had previously won or lost.

They examined the behaviour of 259 participants in a lab-based dice-rolling game – identical to the original study – and 275 participants undertaking a basic coin-tossing game in an additional online experiment. The results were then analysed using standard statistics plus a mathematical technique called structural equation modelling.

Researchers found that a small but significant amount of cheating occurred for the financial rewards on offer, just as in the original study. However, winning did not increase subsequent cheating or increase people’s sense of entitlement – and neither did losing.

Instead, the only factor investigated which could account for the small (but significant) amount of the cheating that occurred was low ‘inequality aversion’.

People with inequality aversion dislike unequal outcomes. Those with a strong sense of fairness tend to be inequality averse, and they avoid cheating because they view the practice as a form of unfairness.

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