People who feel anxious or threatened are more likely to cheat if given the chance, according to the results of a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and nicely summarized today by Alex Fradera over at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. Maryam Kouchaki of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management led the study, and she and her team used music to make their 63 student participants feel either calm, by playing relaxing music, or anxious, by playing the iconic, unsettling theme from the movie Psycho. (They checked their work by asking the students how they felt after listening to the music, and those who’d heard the screeching Psycho soundtrack did indeed indicate that they were feeling more threatened than the others.)
Fradera explains the next part of the study setup:
The participants next completed a simple computer task for money, for which there was an obvious way to cheat. The non-anxious students made an average of 19 “clear cheats,” whereas the anxious ramped this up to 24. The more threatened the anxious felt, the more they cheated.
When we’re anxious, in other words, we’re apparently more concerned with looking out for ourselves and less concerned with playing by the rules. Just further evidence that feeling threatened doesn’t always bring out our best qualities.