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Study Reports Cheaters Use Mental Tricks to Feel Less Guilty

Update Date: Nov 20, 2013 11:32 AM EST

Based on societal and cultural principles, people are taught early on that cheating in general, whether is it on a test or on a partner, is wrong. Despite learning that infidelity is immoral, people might still engage in wrongful sexual and emotional acts with. In a new study, researchers observed the behaviors of cheaters in order to see how they coped with their actions. Based on the results, the researchers reported that cheaters used cognitive tricks to feel good about themselves despite knowing that cheating is bad.

For this study, the researchers conducted four different experiments. The participants were randomly split up into two groups, which were faithful or unfaithful. Since the researchers cannot ask people to cheat on their partners, they agreed that for this study, the degree of interaction between two people could be understood as a mild form of infidelity. The researchers set out to observe the answers participants gave when they were asked to reminisce about previous relationships. The participants were first told to think of a previous romantic relationship. They were then instructed to think of a person that they were attracted to while being a part of a committed relationship. The participants then answered questions and were measured on an infidelity scale.

During the measuring process, the researchers purposely exaggerated the participants' infidelity scores to make some of them feel more unfaithful. The researchers discovered that people who were made to feel more unfaithful reported disliking themselves more often than people who were considered faithful. Despite acknowledging the notion of infidelity, the unfaithful people were more likely to downplay their actions. These people were more likely to say that these actions did not accurately reflect who they were.

The researchers concluded that even though people might feel bad about cheating, they would find ways of telling themselves that their actions do not represent who they typically are. The study, "It did not mean anything (about me): Cognitive dissonance theory and the cognitive and affective consequences of romantic infidelity," was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

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