From Cheating Is an Awful Thing for Other People to Do, by Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, Monday Aug. 21, 2006, p. A02:
You and I may never get to ride in the Tour de France, but a great many studies show that most human beings are open to -- and extraordinarily adept at -- bending moral rules when it is convenient.
Most people report telling lies on a fairly regular basis and being largely untroubled by them. When pressed, people say their lies are innocuous.
Nor can the world be divided cleanly into cheaters and honest people: A variety of ingenious experiments show that large majorities of people can be induced to do the wrong thing, depending on the circumstances.
Among the most potent motivators to cheat is the sense that one has lost the limelight, is falling behind and will be judged harshly.
People are also more likely to cheat if they think other people are cheating.
* * *
"We have a whole quiver full of rationalizations," said C. Daniel Batson, a psychologist at the University of Kansas who has closely studied cheating.
Batson does not know what happened in the Tour de France, but he does understand how athletes in general can rationalize a decision to cheat. All they need to do is think of a drug or a steroid as a relatively small offense that is evened out by other factors.
"We're very good at explaining to ourselves why we are doing something," he said. "Maybe I have a cold and I know I am going to underperform. Well, I have trained all this time, and in order to compensate for this misrepresentation in my performance . . ."
It's a worthwhile read.