Cheaters Live in the Present Moment

Photo: Andrew Sacks/Getty Images

According to any numbers of gurus, the best way to live is to be be in the moment, be here now, or just be. But, contra to those atemporal assurances, a little future-forwardness can be good for you.

Take, for example, a recent study of academic dishonesty (i.e., cheating) in high-schoolers in the journal Learning and Individual Differences, highlighted by PsyPost. Researchers asked 632 high-schoolers in Hungary (a country that, like many Eastern European nations, has super-high cheating rates) about how much cheating they’d done in the past semester and their levels of (non)motivation.

The students also filled out an assessment of their “time perspective,” which measures how people relate to time, by agreeing or disagreeing with statements like “I take risks to put excitement in my life” (an indicator of a “Present Hedonistic” perspective) and “I complete projects on time by making steady progress” (marking a “Future” perspective). The results: present-hedonistic kids were more likely to cheat, and the future-oriented were less likely.

This is a self-report study, so you can never be sure of how accurate these numbers are; plus, it’s just Hungary, so there will need to be more work to figure out if this is generalizable. But what’s very cool here is how something so fundamental and unconscious as assumptions about time appear to frame how people act in their daily lives. It also sheds light on how the brain’s signature habit of departing from the present may help people to do favors for their future selves. To be ethical, in other words, it helps to take the long view.

Cheaters Live in the Present Moment