Letting the air out – why “whatever it takes” promotes cheating

If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you know that, somehow, by some miraculous stroke of luck or divine intervention, the New England Patriots pulled off the WIN, barring the Seahawks from scoring on a no-sweat, first-and-goal opportunity to take home the trophy. Needless to say, the game was a nail-biter. But as exciting as the final minutes of the game were, there was one issue that was even more explosive in the media than the game itself: cheating.

Now dubbed ‘Deflate-gate’, in the weeks prior to the Super Bowl, the Patriots were charged with intentionally deflating their footballs to below NFL standards, making the balls easier to grip, throw and catch.

As experts have been weighing in on the psychological background behind Deflate-gate, it became clear to me that the world of athletes is not so different from the world of competitive academics or careers. Those in the workforce often define themselves by their job or career. Students often view themselves in terms of class standing and course of study. In both cases, success is viewed as being “the best you can be” despite the cost. In other words, you must do “whatever it takes” to succeed and get ahead, even if that means gaining an unfair advantage over others.

For instance, according to Maurice Schweitzer:

“There are several reasons [why someone would cheat in sports]. Part of it is a fear of losing—that is, if you’re expected to win you actually face even more pressure to come out on top. A second reason, I think, has to do with culture. In some organizations, the line between cheating and merely being very competitive isn’t very clear.”

Of course people cheat so that they can get into a better school, get better grades, or get a better job. But sometimes, students also cheat because the line between cheating and working hard can appear fuzzy. In times like these, students and adults are far more likely to cheat.

Schweitzer went on:

“There’s a norm, where people are justified in saying, ‘Look, everyone’s doing it,’ and it becomes part of the culture. The second competitive pressure, like the use of steroids. If everybody around you is using steroids, the only way to be competitive is to use steroids too.”

In a world where cheating has become ubiquitous, the pressure to cheat is greater and greater for professionals, students, and athletes. I think the events have reminded us of an important lesson: If there is competition, there may be cheating. If the goal is to win by doing “whatever it takes,” there will be cheating. Some person will be willing to cross the fuzzy line and gain an unfair advantage. Therefore we must have systems in place to keep all cheaters in check–not just athletes.



Christie Zervos

Director of Operations, Caveon Test Security

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