Skip to Content

What is the cheater’s high?

Cheating and deception are usually associated with negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and fear of getting caught. However, there is a concept known as the “cheater’s high” or “duper’s delight” that suggests some individuals experience a sense of pleasure and thrill when successfully deceiving others. This emotional boost can be so significant that it leads them to repeat their dishonest behavior, even when there is no tangible reward at stake. In this blog post, we will explore the psychology behind the cheater’s high, the factors that influence its occurrence, its consequences, and strategies to counteract it.

Understanding the psychology behind the cheater’s high

A. The role of dopamine in the brain’s reward system

One of the key factors contributing to the cheater’s high is the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s reward system. When we engage in activities that bring us pleasure or satisfaction, such as eating delicious food or receiving praise, our brain releases dopamine, creating a sense of pleasure. This release of dopamine reinforces the behavior, making us more likely to repeat it.

B. Link between dishonesty and activation of reward centers in the brain

Research has shown that dishonesty activates the brain’s reward centers, similar to the way they are activated by other pleasurable experiences. When individuals successfully deceive others, they experience a surge of dopamine in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. This activation of reward centers reinforces the behavior of dishonesty, making it more likely to be repeated in the future.

C. Psychological factors contributing to the enjoyment of deceit

Besides the physiological aspects, several psychological factors contribute to the enjoyment of deceit. These include a sense of superiority, power, and control over others. The act of deceiving someone successfully can provide a boost to one’s self-esteem and create a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, some individuals may derive pleasure from the thrill of getting away with something, which further enhances the cheater’s high.

Factors influencing the occurrence of the cheater’s high

A. Individual differences in susceptibility to experiencing the cheater’s high

Not everyone experiences the cheater’s high to the same extent. Research indicates that individual differences, such as personality traits and moral values, play a role in the susceptibility to experiencing this phenomenon. Individuals who are more inclined to engage in unethical behavior or have a flexible moral compass may be more likely to derive pleasure from deceitful acts.

B. Situational factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing the cheater’s high

Certain situational factors can also enhance the experience of the cheater’s high. These factors create an environment that encourages and rewards dishonesty. Some examples include:

1. Limited risk of detection or punishment: When individuals perceive a low probability of getting caught or facing consequences for their actions, they are more likely to engage in dishonest behavior. The reduced fear of being exposed amplifies the pleasure associated with the cheater’s high.

2. Perceptions of unfairness or inequity: When individuals believe they have been treated unfairly or perceive an imbalance in a situation, they may justify cheating or deception as a way to level the playing field. This sense of injustice can intensify the emotional boost of the cheater’s high.

3. Desire for personal gain or advantage: The pursuit of personal gain or advantage can motivate individuals to engage in dishonest behavior. Whether it is financial gain, academic recognition, or professional success, the desire for these outcomes can fuel the enjoyment of deceit when achieved.

Consequences of the cheater’s high

A. Reinforcement of dishonest behavior

The cheater’s high acts as a form of positive reinforcement for dishonesty. When individuals experience pleasure and satisfaction from successfully deceiving others, it reinforces the behavior, increasing the likelihood of repetition. This reinforcement mechanism can create a cycle of dishonesty, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to resist the temptation to cheat or deceive.

B. Erosion of moral values and ethical decision-making

Repeated experiences of the cheater’s high can lead to the erosion of moral values and ethical decision-making. The enjoyment derived from being deceitful can weaken one’s internal moral compass and make it easier to engage in unethical behavior in the future. Over time, this erosion of moral values can have significant personal and societal consequences.

C. Negative impact on trust and relationships

The cheater’s high can have a detrimental effect on trust and relationships. When individuals engage in deception and experience pleasure from it, it breaks down the trust and creates a sense of betrayal in relationships. This erosion of trust can have long-lasting effects, damaging personal and professional relationships and creating barriers to meaningful connections.

Strategies to counteract the cheater’s high

A. Enhancing moral awareness and ethical decision-making skills

Increasing moral awareness and developing strong ethical decision-making skills can help counteract the influence of the cheater’s high. By consciously reflecting on the potential consequences of dishonest behavior and considering the ethical implications of their actions, individuals can strengthen their resistance to the allure of deceit.

B. Increasing the perceived risk of detection and punishment

Raising the perceived risk of detection and punishment can act as a deterrent to dishonest behavior. The fear of being caught and facing negative consequences can outweigh the pleasure associated with the cheater’s high. Implementing effective monitoring systems, holding individuals accountable for their actions, and promoting a culture of integrity can contribute to increasing the perceived risk and reducing the likelihood of the cheater’s high.

C. Promoting a culture of integrity and accountability

Creating a culture that values integrity, honesty, and accountability is crucial in mitigating the cheater’s high. Organizations and institutions can establish clear ethical guidelines, provide ethical training and education, and foster a supportive environment where ethical behavior is rewarded. By promoting a culture that prioritizes integrity, the cheater’s high can be minimized, and individuals are encouraged to make ethical choices.

Case studies/examples of the cheater’s high in various contexts

A. Academic cheating

The cheater’s high is commonly observed in academic settings, where students may engage in dishonest behavior such as plagiarism or cheating on exams. The pleasure derived from successfully deceiving instructors or achieving better grades can reinforce this behavior and lead to a cycle of academic dishonesty.

B. White-collar crime

In the corporate world, individuals involved in white-collar crime cases may experience the cheater’s high when successfully deceiving others for financial gain. The accumulation of wealth or achieving business success through fraudulent means can provide a significant emotional boost, perpetuating the cycle of deceit.

C. Professional sports scandals

The world of professional sports has witnessed several scandals involving doping, match-fixing, and other forms of cheating. In these cases, athletes may experience the cheater’s high from gaining a competitive advantage or achieving recognition through illicit means. The thrill of winning and the enjoyment of outsmarting opponents can contribute to the perpetuation of dishonest behavior.


In conclusion, the cheater’s high is a phenomenon where individuals experience a sense of pleasure and excitement from successfully deceiving others. The release of dopamine and activation of reward centers in the brain reinforce this behavior, making it more likely to be repeated. While the cheater’s high may provide temporary satisfaction, it has significant consequences, including the reinforcement of dishonest behavior, erosion of moral values, and damage to trust and relationships. By understanding the psychology behind the cheater’s high and implementing strategies to counteract it, we can promote a culture of integrity and ethical decision-making.


  1. The Cheater’s High
  2. The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of …
  3. Is There a Cheater’s High? by Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D.
  4. Cheater’s High: Why Not Playing Fair Feels So Good |
  5. Dishonest deeds lead to ‘cheater’s high,’ as long as no one …