Cognitive strategies for managing cheating: The roles of cognitive abilities in managing moral shortcuts

Avshalom Galil, Maor Gidron, Jessica Yarmolovsky, Ronny Geva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Cheating and immorality are highly researched phenomena, likely due to their great impact. However, little research has examined the real-time cognitive mechanisms that are involved in cheating and conflict management. Much of the cheating research to date concentrates on binary cheating; however, in more prevalent real-world scenarios, people often engage in more ambiguous self-serving mistakes. To execute such self-serving decisions, one may make use of conflict-management strategies to help balance an internal struggle between gain and self-concept. We propose that to enact such strategies one must employ sufficient cognitive resources. To test this, we employed a simple effortful control task that allows for comparisons of gain and no-gain errors, isolating self-serving mistakes while recording gaze and response-time measures. Findings revealed that individuals can make use of conflict management strategies that mimicked errors made inadvertently. Two strategies included gaze avert and quick response times during gain blocks, whereby participants simulated out-of-control-like behaviors while engaging in self-serving mistakes, plausibly as a method of self-justification. Strategy use was dependent upon individuals' cognitive abilities. Participants reporting high inhibitory control abilities were able to use gaze aversion to engage in self-serving mistakes, while those reporting high attention resources were able to employ faster response times when making more profitable errors. Taken together, this paper contributes to (1) the debate on whether honesty/dishonesty is the dominant response, (2) the debate on self-control and inhibition on cheating, and (3) the understudied area of cognitive justifications to maintain a positive self-concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1579-1591
Number of pages13
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


This research was funded by the Infrastructure Development Grant of the National Office of Science, Technology and Space, 3-10842 awarded to Prof. Ronny Geva. We thank the participating families and the Developmental Neuropsychology team at the Gonda Brain Research Center.

FundersFunder number
National Office of Science, Technology and Space3-10842


    • Attention
    • Cognitive and attentional control
    • Eye movements and visual attention
    • Inhibition


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