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Why Does it Feel Good to be Bad?


Ever since a young age it seems that we are told that we should feel bad when we do things that society would frown upon. The idea to play by the book is engrained in our minds, yet it seems that by the time people get to highschool or college they do a complete reversal and live by a “ends justify the means” way of thinking. To quote a popular pop song by David Guetta, “Why does it feel so good to be bad?”


The answer for most people comes in two parts. The initial feeling of doing something wrong can cause someone to feel nervous, however after they get away with it there seems to be a sort of high. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, the London Business School, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that “individuals who cheat on different problem-solving tasks consistently experience more positive affect than those who do not.” The idea of this high that one gets after cheating is apparently not a new one. In one of their experiments, subjects were forced to complete an online math test, but there was a button on the side that would show them the answer. They were told not to use it, since it was considered cheating, but since it was there about 68% of the participants took use of it. Scott Wiltermuth, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, noted that “Showing people feeling positively after committing a moral transgression is pretty novel.” But why is it that we have turned into a society of cheaters, who choose to take every shortcut they can find?

According to Professor Wiltermuth it is because we have “many ways to cheat anonymously, especially via the Web”. Due to the internet, we as a society now cross ethical lines at an alarming rate because we can do them anonymously. The clinical term for this trend is “Online Disinhibition Effect”, and it states that when we are online we act different because we know it will not affect our actual lives. The idea that someone can cheat on a test or a spouse completely anonymously, has given people a false sense of security. Then people get a “high” because they think they are more clever than the rest of the world.


The second half of the problem is that many people often attempt to rationalize their cheating by thinking “if no one gets hurt, is it even wrong?” According to Robert Weiss, a renowned therapist, the “belief that what they are doing is victimless, coupled with their ability to repeatedly get away with it, allows them to experience the cheater’s high.” 


In our fast paced society, all that seems to matter is instant gratification. We want our phones to be faster, our food to be faster, and apparently we want the feeling of pleasure faster as well. This has lead to a generation of young adults who view now feel good while doing bad. If this trend continues, there is no telling where it will take us as a society.


Article by: Alex Rosencrance

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