Testosterone Levels put into Question the Dishonesty Test

Reading response to “Winning a competition predicts dishonest behavior”

Amos Schurr and Illana Ritov attempt to pass winning a competition as a predictor of dishonest behavior. They first use quite compelling results, that will surprise a naive reader;  then they use the manipulation of words to try to convince the reader that winning causes entitlement which leads to dishonest behavior. They tested the subjects behavior immediately after a competition, comparing the winners to the losers to see which are more likely to be dishonest. In this essay I will endeavor, as well as I can, to show why I believe there is insufficient evidence from their study and they fail to show a correlation between winning and behaving dishonesty.

Schurr and Ritov begin their essay by stating that “we know only little about contestants behavior after the competition has ended”, and that their goal is to find out who is more likely to “subsequently engage in unrelated unethical behaviors- winners or losers”. They even mention studies that show that it is in fact losers that tend to behave dishonestly trying to climb the social ladder(1,2,3). Continuing with their study, they claim that after a contest, the winners are more likely to partake in dishonest behavior. At first, this seems like a surprise discovery that has given us some insight into reality. There is no reason to deny their results. But upon closer examination their research is not evidence towards finding out subsequent unethical behavior. Their results  are taken out of context, quite artificial, created in a laboratory with no real world practicality.

The effect of winning and losing on human beings has been well documented. It is shown that even in fans, let alone the athletes, their testosterone level goes up immediately after they see their team win, and that it also drops after a loss(4). When athletes, or even fans, have just had their team win a game, they are in an exuberant mood, with a higher than normal level of testosterone. @foroughpassyar4396 mentions in her essay  that “Buckert et al. argue that testosterone is tied to the dopaminergic system and further encourages competitive behaviors”. To question them right away after winning is similar to talking to a bipolar person in a manic state. It is not indicative of what they would do the next day or subsequently after the result, or if the unethical momentary behavior would continue passed the few minutes immediately after a win.  It is unnatural for someone to be put in that kind of situation and deal with questions regarding dishonesty when one has this feeling of euphoria. The natural behavior for someone after winning a game, or contest, is to immediately celebrate and enjoy the win. If one loses, the opposite result takes place. One is depressed after a defeat and sulks and goes home. After a few hours, ones hormones will balance out once again, and the proper equilibrium will return. To ask questions of a competitive nature at such a moment will only produce a momentary behavior, highly affected by higher or lower than normal testosterone and other hormones like dopamine.

To claim someone has a “sense of entitlement”  to behave more dishonestly based on a test done immediately after the subject wins a game is a distortion of language.  The word entitled in this context means “believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” By definition, a sense of entitlement requires rational thought and an attitude that takes shape over time. These results only prove that simply catching people in certain times when they have higher testosterone and other hormones causes momentary lapses in the decision making and gives a person  a more subconscious and primal behavior; but it does not show that winning a competition increases the sense of entitlement in an individual and that it leads to dishonesty.

That a sense of entitlement will lead to higher dishonest behavior(2,5) seems inherently correct, but to prove that winning leads to a sense of entitlement, there needs to be more tests done in the days and weeks after the victory. As it stands, the research on losing leading to more dishonest behavior, is much more credible and takes into account the effect of winning and losing on long term social situations based on real life hierarchies and competitive environments.  It is my belief (and maybe hope) winning is productive and has an overall positive effect on one’s life. Therefore striving to win is a good way of being and if we did do those long term results on winning, the status quo will stay the same and we will continue to realize that it is losing that causes more dishonest behavior.


  1. John LK, Loewenstein G, Rick SI (2014), Cheating more for less:Upward social comparisons motivate the poorly compensated to cheat. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process, 123(2):101-109.
  2. Zitek EM, Jordan AH, Monin B, Leach FR (2010), Victim entitlement to behave selfishly. J Pers Soc Psychol, 98(2):245-255.
  3. Pittarello A, Rubaltelli E, Rumiati R (2013), You can’t be better than me: The role of the reference point in modulating people’s pursuit of wealth. J Econ Psychol, 37:65-76.
  4. Bernhardt PC, Dabbs JM Jr, Fielden JA, Lutter CD (1998), Testosterone changes during vicarious experiences of winning and losing among fans at sporting events. Physiol Behav, 65(1):59-62.
  5. Poon KT, Chen Z, Dewall CN (2013), Feeling entitled to more : Ostracism increases dishonest behavior. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, 39(9):1227-1239.


  1. Hi Winston! Thanks for bringing this article into our online discussion. I haven’t read this article, but if I understand correctly, then the basic argument that Schurr and Ritov are making is that winning leads to a sense of entitlement, and a sense of entitlement leads people to behave dishonestly. However, you are arguing that a sense of entitlement requires rational forethought; because winning (or losing) causes a temporary chemical imbalance (e.g., in testosterone), and not a methodical change of mind, then winning (or losing) cannot effect entitlement. This, then, renders Schurr and Ritov’s study defunct in terms of their logical chain of argument.

    If testosterone increase is an invalid route with which to argue a connection between winning/losing a competition and entitlement, do you think there are other ways in which these two things could be linked? For instance, instead of saying that a short-lived chemical imbalance effect’s one’s sense of entitlement and possible behaviour, perhaps the social narratives or interactions around competition could create this? You bring up sporting events, so I guess I am just reminded up all the very confident (/entitled) sports stars that are out there and how being a “winner” may have shaped their personality or view of the world. It’s an interesting topic, and I think it’s definitely possible to argue for many different perspectives on how/if winning effects people!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Grace for reading my essay and your comment. you almost got it. what happened was that they did their test immediately after they won or lost. I am not saying that winning or losing cannot effect entitlement, but in their experiment, we cannot say that because it is done moments after winning.

    Now when it comes to winning or losing, the evidence up to now shows that losing caused more dishonest behavior than winning.

    If you look at the works cited, you will find a couple articles that talk about this. there is one called “Victim entitlement to behave selfishly” and another called ” Cheating more for less:Upward social comparisons motivate the poorly compensated to cheat”, and their titles are self explanatory. The lower you are in the hierarchy, the more you are likely to cheat .

    I hope that helps!


  3. Hey Winston, I enjoyed reading your thorough discrepancies you had with the authors in the articles of Ritov & Schurr, it shows how even the most prestigious levels of careers and education can still be held to a higher standard and attract valid scrutiny. I agree with you with what you said; the way they go about their research and conclusions is quiet literally a snapshot or brief insight in the moment they immediately draw their data, but those circumstances outside of the brief moment will show different conclusions so the assertion that “Winning a competition predicts dishonest behaviour” is agreeably, reaching. Thanks for the read.


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