Fake health passes, “Koh-Lanta”: why do people cheat?

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The last few weeks have been marked by revelations in the press of cheating at different levels. First of all, the sanitary pass fraud, either by the creation of a false QR code, or by the use of that of a vaccinated person. According to the Ministry of the Interior, there are more than 110. 000 in circulation in France, which would exchange between 200 and 1. 10 euros , despite the fine of 695 euros provided for offenders. The government also announced in mid-December that it wanted to create a “repentance system” so that “Someone who would benefit from a false document can put himself in order and that there be abandonment of prosecution.”

Then, the recent revelation of adventure game show fraud, “Koh Lanta” , who has ignited debates . The season finale specially organized to mark the 20th anniversary of the game, which brought together former winners, ended without a winner. The production made the decision in response to the behavior of some candidates who had obtained food “outside the playing field”.

These two situations are situations of individual lying, and both have significant social consequences on the rest of the group. But beyond this resemblance, they also have common origins.

Nothing to gain In particular, we detect certain elements that promote fraudulent behavior and that we have documented in our research work in behavioral economics.

They are several orders:

First of all, the existence of a “negative framing”. In both situations, individuals have nothing to gain, but to lose: on the one hand, the “normal” life routine, which was a given, where everything was allowed, on the other hand, a place of “ hero ”and“ legend ”of television. In this special edition, the participants were indeed “prisoners” of the framing, because, being “stars” of past seasons, they had everything to lose.

However, we have demonstrated that as opposed to a gain framing, a loss framing has a disastrous influence in matters of lying. Indeed, it significantly encourages individuals to cheat precisely to keep their situation in danger. It has also been shown that the influence of the manager weighs more when the initial preferences of individuals are already very polarized towards behaviors of fraud .

These lessons from experimental economics therefore show that cost-benefit calculations are not enough to understand the phenomenon of cheating. This is to complete the analysis by taking into account individual preferences and the influence of the environment (as demonstrated, not without critics , the Israeli-American professor of psychology and economics Dan Ariely ).

This influence of the environment should also question public action: have we not created the conditions for that health pass fraud exists, by setting this framework of loss of freedoms? The question is all the more essential since this negative framework modifies the norm of altruism in society, which constitutes the second vector of cheating that we currently observe.


In general, people are more altruistic when they have something to lose . However, this principle can only be observed on condition that the situation is endured and that the standard is the same for everyone. But the communication of those who break the rules, especially on social networks , creates a new “anti-system” norm which divides the population. Within these groups, the propensity to behave in an immoral manner then becomes stronger than individually .

Additionally, we have shown that, when individuals have the choice to position themselves by themselves in a negative framework (thus deliberately positioning themselves as the losers of a situation), their ability to share (and therefore their altruism) is negatively impacted.

Finally, our last explanation for the rise of cheating relates to an extension of this negative framing by a feeling of “exhaustion”. The theory of exhaustion, although validated , manhandled and reinterpreted , demonstrates our tendency to cheat more when it comes to food, as in the case of “Koh -Lanta ”.

But what the reinterpretation of the exhaustion theory tells us is that exhaustion is above all an emotion, so that it can be induced: more l ‘one feels exhausted, the less moral barriers will be activated. So, if we navigate a social situation that has been repeatedly described as exhausting, constructed of repeated deprivation efforts, we will integrate this component into our behavior, and cheating can more easily take its place.

What to do about this situation? Change the perception of loss framing, check that we do not therefore create the conditions for automatic cheating, put more emphasis on virtuous groups and not the alternative norm, promote more moral acts, or even make more visible the examples of ‘achievement rather than exhaustion…

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