Hormones Influence Unethical Behavior
In order to address the problems of cheating and financial fraud on college campuses, researchers at Harvard and UT Austin decided to study reproductive hormones, thinking there may be clues behind such unethical conduct.
117 participants were asked to complete a math test, grade it themselves, and self-report the number of correctly completed problems. Resaearchers used money as the reward, with the more correct problems, the more money in their pockets. Before and after the exam, researchers collected saliva samples, and found people with elevated levels of testosterone and cortisol were more likely to lie about the number of correctly solved problems to get more money.
One of the authors stated a reason why they may have cheated: “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, testosterone furnishes the courage to cheat, and elevated cortisol provides a reason to cheat.”
Follwing the exam, people who cheated showed lowered levels of cortisol and reductions in emotional distress, suggesting cheating provided some sort of stress relief, showing the reason why this behavior may be reinforced.
Researchers concluded that maintaining ethics and morality by either reward or punishment may not be effective in preventing cheating and other unethical behavior and that more studies would need to be done to discover more details about the underlying causes.