Cheater Is A Hormonal Profile


Cheater. Healthy Living Magazine

Cheater. Healthy Living Magazine

Your hormones determine your ethics, says research from Harvard University and the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Specifically levels of the male sex hormone testosterone and stress-related cortisol.

“Although the science of hormones and behavior dates back to the early 19th century, only recently has research revealed just how powerful and pervasive the influence of the endocrine system is on human behavior,” said UT professor of psychology Robert Josephs.

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Researchers asked 117 participants to complete a math test, grade it themselves and self-report the number of correctly completed problems. The more problems they got correct, the more money they would earn.

cheating recipe

From salivary samples collected before and after the test, researchers found that individuals with elevated levels of testosterone and cortisol were more likely to overstate the number of correctly solved problems.

“Elevated testosterone decreases the fear of punishment while increasing sensitivity to reward. Elevated cortisol is linked to an uncomfortable state of chronic stress that can be extremely debilitating,” Josephs said. “Testosterone furnishes the courage to cheat, and elevated cortisol provides a reason to cheat.”

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unethical behavior of cortisol

Additionally, participants who cheated showed lowered levels of cortisol and reported reductions in emotional distress after the test as if cheating provided some sort of stress relief.

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“The stress reduction is accompanied by a powerful stimulation of the reward centers in the brain, so these physiological, psychological changes have the unfortunate consequence of reinforcing the unethical behavior,” Josephs said.

why stick and carrot cannot work

That doesn’t mean we have to lower men’s sex hormones. Because neither hormone without the other predicted unethical behavior, lowering levels of either hormone alone may not prevent unethical episodes.

Yoga, meditation and exercise reduce levels of cortisol but may not necessarily diminish testosterone levels; yet, its practice could have an effect that ameliorates the lying and cheating that comes with these two steroids on overload. It may do so through a rebalancing of the entire system, although this hasn’t been studied yet. “The takehome message from our studies is that appeals based on ethics and morality—the carrot approach— and those based on threats of punishment—the stick approach—may not be effective in preventing cheating,” Josephs said. “By understanding the underlying causal mechanism of cheating, we might be able to design interventions that are both novel and effective.”

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ReferenceLee JJ, Gino F, Jin ES, Rice L, Josephs RA. Hormones and Ethics: Understanding the Biological Basis of Unethical Conduct. J Exp Psychol: General, 2015; DOI: 10.1037/xge0000099
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