What is cheating & is it ever alright?


The concept of “cheating” is a much more complicated issue than first meets the eye. The vast majority of people, if not all people, would condemn cheating and would be quick to scorn those caught in doing so. However, pretty much everyone has cheated in the past in some way, shape or form. But, what exactly constitutes cheating and can it ever be justified?

Imagine you’re in this situation: it’s exam time during your last year at university and you have only one exam left to sit, you have a brilliant job lined up for after you graduate but it all rides on the fact you have to get a first to secure it. Seeing as you’ve put the work in consistently during your years at uni, the score you have to obtain isn’t outrageously high, for argument’s sake let’s say you have to score at least 68% to get that first. Whichever way you look at it, your performance in this exam will either see you win a fantastic start in a coveted position in your chosen career field along with optimal career prospects or you’ll be left at the bottom of the pile after graduation (i.e. You’ll probably end up on a year-long job hunt just to secure a job which isn’t even half as good as the one you had lined up).

A few days before the exam the answers to the paper you’re about to sit fall into your possession through no endeavour of your own. Maybe your lecturer dropped them in the hallway, you picked them up but couldn’t give them back to him/her because he/she didn’t hear you call his/her name such was the rush he/she was in. Whatever happened for you to gain access to these answers, in theory you have plenty of time to learn these answers word-for-word, number-for-number, sit the exam, look spectacular in the process and gain that all-important first with marks to spare.

In addition, all you have to do is exercise a bit of common sense (such as destroy those answers as soon as you get home from that exam and keep your mouth shut) and you WILL get away with it.

You think to yourself, “I didn’t steal these answers, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m technically still revising if I learn these answers by rote, it’s not as if I’m sneaking cheat sheets or notes typed onto my phone into the exam. I’m just making sure I get a good start in my career during times when I can’t afford to be in a financially awkward situation.” Is this cheating? Is this justifiable? And, more importantly, would you do it if you were in that situation?

OK, so what exactly is cheating? Well, there are generally two camps that any example of cheating can fall into (quite often they’ll fall into both).

The first definition is: to act in a dishonest and/or deceitful manner in order to attain an advantage or some sort of self-gain.

The second definition is: to enhance your performance by using methods to gain an advantage inaccessible to others (in other words, an unfair advantage).

Now we get to the issue of Lance Armstrong. Was Armstrong’s use of Performance-enhancing drugs a dishonest/deceitful way of obtaining an advantage or self-gain? Absolutely. But, did his use of PED’s give him and his team an unfair advantage which noone else could have had access to? Considering the number of cyclists who have been caught doping, almost certainly not.

So, Lance Armstrong’s doping in all those Tours de France only actually falls into one camp of the definition of cheating. So what exactly is it that makes what he did so bad? After all, there are so many other cyclists who have been disgraced in similar circumstances yet they have not faced the same media firestorm.

The answer to that is simple, it’s what your mum and dad told you all through your childhood, “it’s not the fact that you did it, it’s the fact that you lied about it”. This phrase is bandied about so often but it is so so true. People are so angry at the fact that Armstrong lied and lied repeatedly on the record about his doping and destroyed the careers of those who tried to blow the whistle on him. In this way, you could say the cheating isn’t the bad part of Armstrong’s story seeing as he faces criminal charges for lying under oath and not the doping itself.

To try to decipher that hypothetical situation above, would memorising those answers be using an unfair advantage inaccessible to others? You can’t reasonably deny the fact that it is. But, would it be using dishonesty/deception for the purpose of self-gain? That question’s a bit more difficult to answer.

The reason that that question is so hard to answer definitively is because some will see it as dishonesty/deception and some won’t (really depends on whether they’d give into that temptation or not).

Those who say it would not be a dishonest and deceitful thing to do are displaying a phenomenon which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. This is essentially where human beings will always justify their behaviour when a small part of them feels it is wrong on some level just to disspell that slight twinge of guilt (e.g “I know smoking’s bad for me but I do it because I have a stressful life”).

So, is cheating ever alright?

It’s like diving in football. No it’s not alright, it’s a coward’s tactic but it happens, even those high up in the world do it and more often than not it’s those who are bad at it that get caught.


2 thoughts on “What is cheating & is it ever alright?

  1. Whatever happened to integrity, morality and virtue ? Are they traits or qualities that have been discarded, one by one, as society gradually becomes more secular and abandons the moral compass which a religion instils ?

    Aren’tmost people trustworthy? Not according to research published by behavioural economist Dan Ariely in his recent book, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty. His essential finding is that most of us are willing to cheat, given the temptation and opportunity. We’re just not willing to admit that we do. We cheat just a little, enough to pass unnoticed and to convince ourselves that we aren’t really being dishonest. After all, we say, everyone would do likewise given the chance.

    The key, says Ariely, is the “fudge factor.” We want to benefit from cheating, but we also want to view ourselves as honest, honourable people. We resolve the conflict by “our amazing cognitive flexibility” – academic-speak for self-deception. He illustrates it by a simple story. Eight year old Jimmy comes home from school with a note from his teacher saying, “Jimmy stole a pencil from the student sitting next to him.” His father is furious. “If you needed a pencil, why didn’t you ask? I could have brought you dozens back from work.” We notice other people’s dishonesty, blind to our own.

    Ariely and his academic colleagues found that the “fudge factor” is greatest when there is a distance between act and consequence, where there are grey areas, and where we have financial incentives to act against the interests of clients. We are more likely to cheat when stressed or exhausted. The more creative we are, the greater our ability to find self-justifying reasons for bad behaviour. We believe our own fictions (Harvard sociologist David Riesman once defined sincerity as “believing your own propaganda”). Dishonesty is contagious. Seeing colleagues cheat makes us more likely to do so. Most tempting of all, says Ariely, is “altruistic” cheating. If we can persuade ourselves that an act of dishonesty is for the good of our colleagues, even the best can go bad.

    Have I ever cheated ?? If you have read my posting above and would like an honest answer, do pose the question. I will reply.Honestly.

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