What Is Cheating

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Cheating refers to unfair and dishonest behavior, whether in activities or in relationships, to achieve preferred outcomes and to get an edge over others. Cheating in romantic relationships is known as infidelity.

What Is Cheating?

It is the act of deceiving, manipulating and engaging in fraudulent behaviors for self-gain. It refers to a person being dishonest, lying and using deception to influence or mislead one or more people to violate the rules or bend the truth in their own favor. Cheating helps an individual to gain an unfair advantage over others by using ill-considered, unsuitable and dishonest means. However, as it can involve violation of rules based on customs, morals and ethics, apart from the ones established by the law, recognizing it can often be difficult due to its subjective nature. Some common examples of a cheater include –

  • A student may cheat during an examination to pass a test they did not study for
  • An athlete may cheat during a sports tournament to win the game
  • A married or committed partner may cheat in a relationship by engaging emotionally or sexually with another person
  • A businessman may cheat in a transaction for higher financial gain
  • An artist may steal or plagiarise another artist’s idea and claim it as their own

According to a 2018 study 1 , “Cheating can have negative impacts on honesty in the workplace.” It was observed that such behavior was primarily found in males and around 97.7% of individuals engaging in such acts considered such behavior “wrong.” Researchers 2 also found that such behaviors may be motivated by self-protection, increased self-serving cognitions, performance pressure 3 and anger.

Understanding Cheating

Cheating behaviors are observed in various aspects of life such as education, work or business, sports, relationships etc. Academic dishonesty is widely prevalent in schools, colleges and universities across the globe causing undesirable and adverse consequences for not just students, but also for the education system, according to a recent 2020 study. “Academic dishonesty refers to behaviors aimed at giving or receiving information from others, using unauthorized materials, and circumventing the sanctioned assessment process in an academic context,” explains the study. According to a research paper 4 , 25% to 75% of students in high schools are estimated to be cheaters, with more boys engaging in the misconduct than girls. Mathematics was the most common subject for academic dishonesty 5 and general students hesitate to trust the cheaters.

Cheating in sports is also commonly observed worldwide. As different sports have different sets of rules and regulations regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable, it may be relatively easier to identify athletes who cheat. Doping 6 or taking performance-enhancing drugs is prevalent in several sports even though it is forbidden and considered unethical. “Doping is now a global problem that follows international sporting events worldwide,” explains a 2007 study 7 . Moral behavior in sports is generally expected from all athletes as sportsmanlike conduct 8 or behavior. However, personality traits 9 , the onset of personality disorders, psychiatric/psychodynamic needs 10 and psychodynamic issues can lead to cheating behaviors in athletes, found a 2016 study 11 . In fact, a recent 2020 study 12 has found that the Dark Triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy) are associated with attitudes towards doping and dishonest behavior among athletes.

Moreover, such behavior and tendencies can also be observed in video games 13 , card games 14 , chess 15 and in gambling 16 as well. Apart from these, such unfair practices and behaviors are also observable in business 17 and finance. When someone uses deceit and inappropriate competitive advantages to gain money, it is considered as fraud.

Cheating In Relationships

When talking about cheating, most people generally refer to infidelity in relationships. One 2017 study 18 explains infidelity as “extra-dyadic sexual involvement (ESI) – i.e., whether a person in a romantic relationship has had sexual relations with someone other than their relationship partner.” However, the definition may also involve emotional affairs and non-sexual actions, like spending more quality time or money on someone else other than your spouse or romantic partner. As all relationships are unique, the definition of adultery in a marriage or a romantic relationship may vary depending on the couple 19 and their terms of exclusivity. As humans are biologically not programmed to be monogamous 20 , infidelity is common in relationships. Studies 21 show that more than 25% of married men and 20% of married women participate in extra-marital sexual activities during their relationships. Researchers 22 have found that cheating in relationships and divorce may be predicted by certain factors such as –

  • Education level
  • Age when first married
  • Respondent’s income and work status
  • Gender
  • Marital satisfaction
  • Religious behavior
  • Past divorce

Cheating is the violation of the moral conduct of faith and trust in a relationship, where a partner’s expectation about his/her sexual and emotional connection is broken by the other. In a relationship, it is assumed by default that the tangible parameters of a relationship is exclusive only to the two people in the relationship. Breaking out from that bond and establishing those factors with someone else entirely is considered as an act of infidelity 23 . It holds the person cheating accountable and answerable as it has various far-fetched consequences on the human mind and conscience.

Why People Cheat

Why People Cheat

Research shows that there are various situational and psychological factors that influence such dishonest behaviors, primarily in relationships. Here are some of the main reasons behind people cheating –

1. Falling out of love

Partners tend to fall out of love while they are still in the relationship. Instead of transparently clarifying the situation, they take the short-cut and find closure in their own ways. This is one of the easiest leads towards cheating.

2. Situational Evil

People have rather justified themselves for cheating by stating this particular reason. Intoxication, receiving validation that’s not commonly present in their relationship, giving closure to all the piled up frustrations inside are the few prevalent reasons for infidelity.

3. Out of Spite and Frustration

Anger, frustration, lack of affection, loss of emotional connection, constant criticism and low self-esteem can be crucial influencing factors. However, the person will always be justified 24 in his/her own mind for cheating due to all the negative burdens.

4. Lack of Physicality

This is a strikingly strong reason behind cheating. Partners who are dissatisfied with their sex-lives in their respective relationships reach to a point where they start reaching out to others to meet their physical needs.

5. Commitment Issues

A growing tendency of people failing to commit nowadays has made cheating an ordinary ‘side-effect’ of relationships. Failing to keep commitments towards a partner can push them to a point where being in a relationship is as good as not being in one.

Effects Of Being Cheated On

Cheating can lead to a number of adverse effects for both partners along with relationship dissolution 25 . Some of the most common negative consequences of cheating involve –

1. Depression

Studies 26 have found that humiliating marital events, such as finding out about a partner’s affair, is related to the development of a major depressive episode (MDE) and can lead to depression. Research 27 shows that infidelity can also cause negative emotions like rejection, confusion, loss of confidence, fear, humiliation, sadness, excessive worry, anger, shame or guilt. It may also lead to suicidal behaviors 28 in either partner.

Read More About Major Depressive Disorder ( Depression ) Here

2. Anxiety

Here not only the cheated person suffers but also the partner who is cheating. While the former begins feeling anxious about actions and words that are said to him/her, the cheating partner also surrenders to guilt and it wears him/her down eventually, unable to see relationships the same way, due to their own actions.

3. Self-blaming and Self-esteem issues

Being cheated on can severely impact the victim partner’s self-esteem, sense of self worth, confidence and sanity. This leads to a train of thoughts whether the victim was incapable, not worthy of being loved and worth keeping.

4. Inability to trust

Infidelity in relationships can lead to serious trust issues 29 in the victim. Being vulnerable to a person in every sense of the word only to be proven wrong to do so, has a far-fetched effect on the victim. There remains little scope of the person to be his/her original self, unapologetically. This particular impact has many complex physiological and mental layers to it, which makes it all the more difficult to overcome.

Overcoming The Effects Of Cheating

The damage inflicted by the acts of cheating is devastating but not irreparable. Here are some of the most effective ways to cope with the adverse effects of infidelity –

1. Know the psychological limits

Having a transparent knowledge 30 of what is okay and what is not by both partners in a relationship is a big necessity for being immune to any misunderstandings. The limit of right and wrong can be very subjective and vary from person to person, which is completely normal. Being aware of where the line is drawn saves a lot of trouble.

2. Understanding the importance of love

Becoming special to someone is easy. Maintaining it over the years and keeping one’s value unique is what takes the real fight. Being the ultimate safe space to the partner and at the same time, choosing a person who values it equally is really necessary for being on the same page. This way the value for each other remains 31 untouchable and irreplaceable.

Read More About Love Here

3. Post-traumatic growth

The trauma brings about a lot of change in the person, including an evolved mindset and better understanding of people and life, in general. It matures the person’s views and ideals, which results in a stronger psychological immunity. The growth helps maintain a subconscious standard thereafter, which acts as a filter to only let in those people who can add value to your life.

Read More About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Here


There are several reasons why a person may cheat, whether in studies, at work, at a sports event, in financial transactions or in relationships. Regardless, such behaviors are never acceptable no matter what the situation may be. This is why it is crucial that you stand up for your needs, confront the cheater, and yet be forgiving to build a better life for yourself. Cheating can be a habitual behavior, so make sure you talk about it openly instead of avoiding it. Consulting a therapist may also be helpful.

Cheating At A Glance

  1. Cheating helps an individual to gain an unfair advantage over others by using ill-considered, unsuitable and dishonest means. 
  2. Cheating behaviors are observed in various aspects of life such as education, work or business, sports, relationships etc.
  3. When talking about cheating, most people generally refer to infidelity in relationships.
  4. The damage inflicted by the acts of cheating is devastating but not irreparable.
  5. Cheating can be a habitual behavior, so talk about it openly instead of avoiding it.
👇 References:
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