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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Psychoanalytic, Behavioral and Neuroscientific Basis for Cheating (the 'Anti-trust')

Cheating and its close relatives, lying and fraud, are ubiquitous in individuals, families, social groups, organizations, and society. Indeed, with one's eyes and ears open to current media, it seems as if the prevalence of cheating in sports, science, politics, and finance is exponentially on the rise. Although the adverse consequences of excessive cheating are usually measured in economic terms, the negative psychological impact on individuals and relationships, including the erosion of trust, cannot be overlooked. Recently the classical understanding of cheating in psychology and in economic theory has been augmented by experimental findings from neuroscience and behavioral economics. Psychoanalysis' focus on the superego and related moral weaknesses and classical economic theory of a simple risk-reward calculation that results in cheating behaviors have given way to an understanding that a biological predilection to cheating exists and that everyone cheats a little, irrespective of simply maximizing illicit reward. Despite the absence of precise information on the neural centers and pathways that mediate cheating, modern neuroscience has taken our understanding even further by identifying factors that influence cheating behaviors. Among them are: (1) Origins of deception in biology and evolutionary theory. (2) Role of gender (3) Creativity's relationship to cheating and vice versa. (4) Fear of loss as an etiological determinant. (5) How cheating can spread ('viral' cheating) (6) the importance of self-image in both furthering and regulating cheating. Lessons from contemporary treatment of latency-age children and from a linguistic approach to intersubjectivity converge with neuroscience to develop a conceptualization of cheating as the enactment of an internal struggle between narcissistic, omnipotent, magical thinking focused on the self and real world actions that take others and the environment into account.Combining the tenets of the various disciplines surveyed allows us to propose ways to manage and, possibly, even prevent extreme cheating in a manner that more directly addresses the underlying mechanisms and dynamics, internal and external, that act on individuals who cheat regardless of age or role. This may be encompassed in the rubric,' I would rather play the regular way by the rules, even if I might lose, because if I win I know I won for real!' This approach will be demonstrated by a case from the author's practice.