Study: This hormone makes people cheat

Study: This hormone makes people cheat

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Study: This hormone makes people cheat


Her voice trailed off as she sighed deeply, implying in her tone that testosterone was the worst thing EVER to happen to humanity.

It seems like testosterone is ALWAYS getting a bad rap of some sort or another.

It gets blamed for all kinds of things: aggressive behavior, cheating on spouses/girlfriends, cheating at work, and men who are douchebags.


Testosterone is vital for men… It keeps us strong and healthy and makes us feel more vibrant.

Does it deserve the really bad reputation it gets?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say…no. 

Most of the time testosterone is very beneficial.

In fact, the evidence points to the idea that testosterone MAY not be the culprit everyone thinks it is in so-called “bad behavior.” 

A lot of negative behavior – including cheating – seems to be driven by the stress hormone cortisol instead.

The hormones testosterone and cortisol influence unethical behavior, study finds
The common thinking about cheating behavior…

When I talk about cheating in this context, I’m not just talking about cheating on a partner – although that certainly applies.

I’m also talking about cheating at work, on your taxes, or on a test.

All of which you can often get away with for a little while…

But eventually, most people get caught and have to pay the consequences. 

Generally speaking, cheating is a bad idea that doesn’t pay off in the long run.

Since testosterone and steroids were discovered, there has been lots of speculation about the hormonal influence of testosterone on unethical behavior – like cheating.

But it’s looking more and more like that is not the case.

New evidence shows that the stress hormone cortisol is actually responsible for cheating.

In this study, the researchers asked the participants to complete a math test and grade it themselves. 

There was no outside check, so they were able to cheat as much as they wanted to.

“Researchers asked 117 participants to complete a math test, grade it themselves and self-report the number of correctly completed problems.”

Added to the ABILITY to easily cheat, they were also given a financial incentive to cheat by earning more – the more correct answers they had.

“The more problems they got correct, the more money they would earn.”

This is where things got interesting… 

Because the researchers wanted to know WHY some people cheat more than others.

To find this out, the scientists collected saliva to see what hormones were present before, during, and after the cheating behavior occurred.

“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.”

Testosterone DOES provide the courage to cheat or to do just about anything else, but it’s cortisol that provides the incentive to cheat.

“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.”

In fact, when people cheated their cortisol levels went DOWN. 

Cheating made them feel less stressed. 

“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.”

Cheating creates a reward that relieves stress.

When your cortisol is elevated due to chronic stress, it can lead to all kinds of unethical behaviors.

It has nothing in particular to do with testosterone or with being a man.

Elevated cortisol is linked to an uncomfortable state of chronic stress that can be extremely debilitating…”

The key here is to understand what drives behavior…

And also to take proactive action so you don’t end up in a state of chronic stress…

Or if you’re experiencing chronic stress, to do something about it beyond just living through it.

Many people find that exercise and meditation help deal with chronic stress.

The bottom line here is don’t blame the testosterone or the man – blame the stress. It’s what drives unethical behavior.

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Matt Cook is editor-in-chief of Daily Medical Discoveries. Matt has been a full time health researcher for 26 years. ABC News interviewed Matt on sexual health issues not long ago. Matt is widely quoted on over 1,000,000 websites. He has over 300,000 daily newsletter readers. Daily Medical Discoveries finds hidden, buried or ignored medical studies through the lens of 100 years of proven science. Matt heads up the editorial team of scientists and health researchers. Each discovery is based upon primary studies from peer reviewed science sources following the Daily Medical Discoveries 7 Step Process to ensure accuracy.
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