Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior

According to a study by Amos Schurr at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Ilana Ritov at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Winning a competition makes people more likely to later behave dishonestly

Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. Five studies reveal that after a competition has taken place winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers.

The following are the key highlights of the study

  • Winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. 
  •  The effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance ie. a Lottery or in reference to a personal goal. 
  • A possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.
The authors also cites the case of the recent Volkswagen scandal

The key highlight of the research is that 

"Although we know much about contestants’ behavior before and during competitions, we know little about contestants’ behavior after the competition has ended. Connecting post competition behaviors with preceding competition experience, we find that after a competition is over winners behave more dishonestly than losers in an unrelated subsequent task. Furthermore, the subsequent unethical behavior effect seems to depend on winning, rather than on mere success. Providing insight into the issue is important in gaining understanding of how unethical behavior may cascade from exposure to competitive settings."


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