Cheaters perceived as less competent: Study

Toronto: People who commit moral transgression like cheating and shoplifting are viewed as less able to do their jobs or complete tasks effectively and low in social intelligence levels, researchers say.

The study showed that people who acted immorally were simply less well-liked, struggle to get on with colleagues and foster a healthy working environment and therefore perceived as worse in every way, including being less competent.

This stems from our assumption that dishonest people have low social intelligence, the researchers said.

“Social intelligence is often conceived of as the ability to manage complex social situations.

“It includes characteristics such as taking the others’ perspectives, being adaptable, managing impressions of oneself and adhering to established social norms,” said lead author Jennifer Stellar from the University of Toronto in Canada.

“A person who is socially intelligent would understand when and why a co-worker is angry and effectively manage their co-worker’s potentially destructive emotional response,” she added.

For the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the team conducted a series of six experiments involving more than 1,500 participants.

Across these experiments, the researchers depicted individuals acting immorally in hypothetical scenarios (e.g., shoplifting), acting selfishly in economic games, cheating on a lab task or receiving low morality ratings from co-workers.

Individuals, who had acted immorally, were consistently rated as less capable of doing their jobs, and were viewed as generally less competent than someone who had acted morally by, for instance, donating to charity.

While most people rated immoral behaviour in one’s private life as irrelevant to determining how good that person was at their job, but when provided with the moral information, they would use it to determine competence, Stellar said.