Altruistic Cheating

Altruistic cheating means cheating for the benefit of someone else.

Studies show that people are more likely to cheat when the cheating will aid others (as well as themselves), or even others instead of themselves. Because most people wish to think of themselves as good people, it’s easier for people to rationalize their wrongdoing when it benefits others.

For example, parents in the “Varsity Blues” scandal bribed athletic coaches in prestigious universities to help their children gain admission. The parents probably would not have paid those bribes to help themselves. But by telling themselves that they were doing it for their children, the cheating seemed okay. And the parents ignored the status and bragging rights that they enjoyed when their kids were admitted to top schools.

Similarly, studies show that students are more likely to cheat (even though they know it’s wrong) when they can tell themselves that they’re helping out a friend or a classmate.

As Law Professor Donald Langevoort warns, “one of the most potent incentives to cheat is in service of others.” This rationalization is a very slippery slope and should serve as a warning to us all.