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Why do people cheat? © Getty Images

Why do people cheat?

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It seems we are never far away from an athletics doping scandal, but game theory explains why it is well worth the effort - if you don't get caught.

Asked by: Caroline O’Brien, London


Because they want to win the easy way. As competitive animals, we human beings constantly seek out opportunities to gain money, food and sex, or simply to look good. Doing all this the hard way requires expediture of time, effort and energy, so cheating can obviously be very tempting.

Evolutionary game theory has helped to explain how altruism can exist alongside cheating. Generally, cheats do well when they are rare, but less well when they are many and have fewer non-cheaters they can exploit. So groups tend towards an equilibrium, with few enough cheats that it’s not worth the cost of stopping them. Sadly, this basic biological principle means we are unlikely ever to be completely free of cheats.

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