People who travel often more likely to cheat, be immoral

NEW YORK — Although a well-traveled guy or gal might be oozing with sex appeal, a recent study finds that they may not be the most committed, or at least morally sound partners. In fact, those who travel more may be more prone to cheating.

With their findings published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Columbia University carried out eight separate experiments, making the final conclusion that “broad foreign experiences foster… moral flexibility.”

Moral flexibility, essentially, is the viewpoint that morals are highly subjective, as opposed to absolute. This idea was a leading theory for the researchers, who believed that “while foreign experiences empower people to break mental rules, they may also drive people to bend moral rules, thereby increasing their tendency to behave immorally.”

One of the experiments that the researchers conducted involved 215 French or french-speaking students, all of whom took a test on three separate occasions: a month before taking a six- or twelve-month trip abroad, six months after having left for the trip, and a year after. At each phase of the test, the students were given a survey and then told they had a chance to win an iPad if they completed an optional nine-part anagram task. The students were told that they must finish the task in chronological order to be eligible — but they simply used an honor system to indicate whether the task was completed or not.

The results found students were more likely to cheat the honor system and claim they’d finished the task when they really hadn’t after their travel abroad. Prior to departing, students only cheated 30% of the time; on the two subsequent tests, students cheated 47.7% of the time.

Being a ‘world citizen’ linked to cheating in additional experiments

Another experiment split 171 American college students into three groups for a writing exercise. One group was to recall a day in the foreign country they’d visited; another group about a day in their hometown; and the third time to describe their last trip — to the supermarket. Each group had five minutes to complete the assignment and each student was paid $20.

Following their writing assignment, each group was given a die to roll for a bonus payment. The higher the number rolled, the greater the bonus. Students again were given an honor system method to self-report. Once again, those who wrote about their experiences abroad were most likely to cheat on the assessment.

Each of the remaining six experiments supported the same conclusion: being a “world citizen” increases the likelihood of shady behavior.

The researchers at Columbia believe that being exposed to different cultures and sets of morals can create the cognitive dissonance that enables loose morals.

This study is interesting in the sense that we mostly hear about the positives of traveling abroad.

Previous research, it should be noted, has found that cheating is often predicated upon whether one thinks they can get away with it, regardless of other circumstances.


  1. It would seem that “cheating” would only reflect upon the cheater. Thus, there’s no real sense in cheating.

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