It looks like hormones could be the reasons certain people are more inclined to cheat.
According to Medical Daily, a new study conducted by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Texas at Austin found a link between cheating and high levels of the reproductive hormone testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol.
The researchers had 117 participants complete math tests, grade the results themselves and then inform the researchers how many questions they got right.
Participants were told the amount of money they would be rewarded depended on the amount of problems they answered correctly.
Once the test results were reported, researchers obtained saliva samples from each participant.
Those with higher amounts of testosterone and cortisol were determined to be the most likely to lie about their performances; those with high levels of only one of the two hormones -- or those with low levels of both -- were not as likely to lie about their scores.
In a press release, Robert Josephs, a UT Austin professor of psychology, said,
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 this courage to cheat, and elevated cortisol provides a reason to cheat.
Additionally, participants who cheated reported experiencing significant decreases in stress after taking the test.
The researchers believe this could be because their systems contained lower levels of cortisol at this time.
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.
Since the study suggests hormone levels encourage cheating, Josephs added, threats and disciplinary actions may no longer be the best ways to eliminate unethical behaviors.
This study was originally published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.