Why Winners Are More Likely To Lie Afterward

Ever hear the phrase "success doesn't make you who you are, it reveals who you are?" Well, a new study is revealing that isn't always for the best: researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have recently determined that winning actually makes you more likely to be dishonest. Essentially, people who are in the mindset of "competition" are more likely to cheat or act dishonestly in the future. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and it's pretty fascinating, if not slightly worrying, as well.

The truth is that people who are of a competitive mindset aren't only those who are actually trying to "win" something. Sure, politicians and contestants on The Bachelor justify fudging the truth because they're geared toward one objective. Yet many people live their normal, everyday lives with the idea of "competitiveness," or a desire for superiority. In the process, they lie about their earnings or their age or even just how happy their lives are. The point is that this study has implications far beyond explaining why Donald Trump is a human mythical fact creator. It can also help us understand why we are inclined to be less-than-true to ourselves when we think something is at stake.

"We already know that some politicians and business executives will often resort to unethical means to win, for example the recent Volkswagen scandal," said Dr. Amos Schurr, a lecturer at BGU's Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management and member of the University's Decision Making and Economic Psychology Center. "Our research was focused on who is more likely to subsequently engage in unrelated unethical behaviors — winners or losers?"

What's interesting, though, is that the study shows that even when the competition is over, winners are still more inclined to dishonesty than anybody else. The behavior seems dependent on winning, not just "success." (Success is more subjective — "winning" is something we perceive everyone to recognize.) The reason for this could be that these people are either more invested in being recognized and revered by their idea of "other people," or they're just so used to fibbing for the sake of getting ahead, they begin to view it as the formula for success.

The research cited here involved five studies with groups of students in Israel. The first two demonstrated that winning a competition increases the likelihood that the winner will steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent but unrelated task. The next studies proved that the effect is present only when winning means performing better than others, as opposed to attaining a personal goal.

"These findings suggest that the way in which people measure success affects their honesty. When success is measured by social comparison, as is the case when winning a competition, dishonesty increases," Schurr explained. "When success does not involve social comparison, as is the case when meeting a set goal, defined standard or recalling a personal achievement, dishonesty decreases."

The researchers concluded that, "It is difficult to overstate the importance of competition in advancing economic growth, technological progress, wealth creation, social mobility, and greater equality. At the same time, however, it is vital to recognize the role of competition in eliciting censurable conduct. A greater tendency toward unethicality by winners is likely to impede social mobility and equality, exacerbating disparities in society rather than alleviating them. Finding ways to predict and overcome these tendencies may be a fruitful topic for the future study."

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