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30 May 2023

Revealed: When people are most likely to cheat you

London retained its position as the top city for investment. (Shutterstock)

By Shuchita Kapur

Like most of human behaviour, cheating is not a definite thing that most people do all the time. Unless, of course, if one is a crook.

Human behaviour depends a lot on the circumstances and the situation of the person in question and, according to new research, most people cheat at the last chance since they find it the most attractive.

Research carried out by London Business School (LBS) reveals that cheating is most attractive to people when their window of opportunity is about to close. This is based on an analysis of more than 25,000 cheating opportunities faced by more than 2,500 participants.

Whether it’s a contractor who seems to be fleecing money from you while doing your home, a household employee trying to make an extra bit, or anyone else, the time when you should be most on your guard against being cheated is the very last time.

Quite likely, those renovating your house will give you an over inflated last bill and your employee may do the damage if s/he is on their way out.

“We gave our participants different numbers of opportunities to cheat, undetected, for money. Our results showed that the odds of cheating were higher when people knew that it was their last chance to cheat, compared to when they thought they had more chances left,” says Daniel Effron, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, LBS.

“The data also suggest that people cheat at the end because they want to avoid feeling regret about passing up a final chance for personal gain,” he said.

In one study, Dr Effron and his co-authors hired 327 research assistants to perform several short work tasks over the Internet. The assistants were paid based on how long they claimed to have spent on each task.

To determine whether the assistants overbilled for their time, the researchers secretly measured how long each assistant actually spent on each task. The results showed that overbilling for a particular task increased by 42 per cent when it was the last one, compared to when some tasks remained.

“We already know that people will cheat on tasks like this, although not as much as much as they can get away with,” Dr Effron explains.

The last window to cheat influences the decision to cheat just as when money is involved. Money corrupts and people tend to cheat when they know they can make an extra amount.

A previous research, which was published in the journal Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, revealed that people doubled the number of lies they told in order to earn extra cash if they were first prompted to think about money and perhaps this trait gets aggravated when it’s their last chance to profit.

This research evidence has important implications for organisations that want to reduce unethical behaviour but have limited resources for monitoring or auditing. These resources may be more effective if they are deployed at the end of a series of opportunities for dishonesty.

For example, invoices submitted just before a contract ends should perhaps be checked extra carefully, as contractors may be more likely to overbill on the last invoice.

(Image via Shutterstock)