People may actually experience a 'cheater's high' after doing something unethical that doesn't directly harm someone else, according to a new research.
Although people predict they will feel bad after cheating or being dishonest, many of them don't, researchers said.
In fact those who get away with cheating when they believe no one is hurt by their dishonesty are more likely to feel upbeat than remorseful afterward.
"When people do something wrong specifically to harm someone else, such as apply an electrical shock, the consistent reaction in previous research has been that they feel bad about their behaviour," said the study's lead author, Nicole E Ruedy, of the University of Washington.
"Our study reveals people actually may experience a 'cheater's high' after doing something unethical that doesn't directly harm someone else," Ruedy said.
Even when there was no tangible reward, people who cheated felt better on average than those who didn't cheat, according to results of several experiments that involved more than 1,000 people in the US and England.
A little more than half the study participants were men, with 400 from the general public in their late 20s or early 30s and the rest in their 20s at universities.
Participants predicted that they or someone else who cheated on a test or logged more hours than they had worked to get a bonus would feel bad or ambivalent afterward.
When participants actually cheated, they generally got a significant emotional boost instead, according to responses to questionnaires that gauged their feelings before and after several experiments.
In one experiment, participants who cheated on math and logic problems were overall happier afterward than those who didn't and those who had no opportunity to cheat.
People who gained from another person's misdeeds felt better on average than those who didn't, another experiment found.
In another trial, researchers asked the participants not to cheat because it would make their responses unreliable, yet those who cheated were likely to feel more satisfied afterward than those who didn't.
Moreover, the cheaters who were reminded at the end of the test how important it was not to cheat reported feeling even better on average than other cheaters who were not given this message, the authors said.
"The good feeling some people get when they cheat may be one reason people are unethical even when the payoff is small," Ruedy said.
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.