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Week 14 Questions for Know Thyself 2019: Cheating

(This blog is part of a weekly series for Know Thyself 2019, a 365 day journal project.  Start here!)

This Week’s Journal Topic: Cheating

You might think that cheating is purely a character flaw or a lack of virtue. This isn’t the case.  Cheating is partially a social phenomenon because it depends on our social expectations, interactions, and observations of others.  Studies show that people are more likely to cheat if they believe that others are cheating, too.  The rub: expect others to cheat, and you might, too.

Do Values Make Us Immune?

Studies on college students reveal that students who think that others have cheated will also cheat, even if they believe cheating is wrong.  The studies run the following scenario:  a class of students is given a test to work on.  Several of the “students” are actually actors who display obvious signs of cheating.  The actors complete the hour long test within several minutes and leave the classroom.  The result is that the real students, after witnessing the cheating, one-by-one begin to cheat, too.  This means that whatever values and beliefs they had before the test began, they are loosened – not strengthened – by observing contrary behavior.

From real student confessions:


Cheating doesn’t just occur in schools and universities. Cheating takes place in other venues.  A few common examples include:

  1. Sneakily cutting in line
  2. Passing off a coworker’s work product as your own
  3. Misrepresenting yourself on a résumé by inflating your credentials or skills
  4. Adding height or using old pictures in online social profiles

These four scenarios are very similar to the student studies described above. Most of us don’t want to think of ourselves as cheaters, we oppose cheating, and we would happily reprimand others for cheating. But be honest with yourself: are you guilty of at least some degree of cheating in one of these four scenarios?

Cheating is done deliberately in order to gain an unfair advantage. For example, you cut in line while knowing that most other people will not – you take dishonest advantage.  You misrepresent your height in online-dating profiles in order to avoid getting weeded-out and increase the likelihood of interactions.

Journal Questions:

  1. Do you consider yourself a cheater or an honest person – why?
  2. Have you ever cheated when you didn’t plan on it?  What is it about the situation that made you ready to cheat?
  3. In what situations do you think everyone sometimes cheats?
  4. In entire societies where cheating is the norm, do you think cheating is less wrong?
  5. How do you feel to know that you missed out on a good thing because someone else got an unfair advantage?
  6. If you saw someone cut in line, would you say something?  Are you more likely to say something after finding out that cheating is a social phenomenon?
  7. What sentences can you say to yourself in moments of temptation to help you act according to your stated values?  Brainstorm.

How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:

Don’t rush through the questions. Try to do only one question every morning, leaving space to add thoughts that might come up later during the day. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.

If you liked this week’s post, please like or comment! I appreciate the feedback and use it to choose future topics. If you want to see more posts like this one, let me know!



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