Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why did Sreesanth cheat?

If the title of the blogpost gives you the impression that what follows is an investigational account of the nexus among bookies, players, politicians etc., then you are bound to be disappointed. So, in order to set the context, let me outline what this post is all about. This post captures my understanding of what behavioral economists have to say about “cheating”. The learnings are mainly from an online course from Dan Ariely (Duke University) titled “A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior”. So, let’s begin the journey of analyzing Sreesanth’s fall from grace. 

Rationalists are of the opinion that cheating is a “cost-benefit” exercise involving three factors – reward, probability of getting caught and quantum of punishment. While the argument may sound convincing to many folks, empirical evidences don’t support it. Rather the behavioral economists attribute cheating to what is commonly referred to as “fudge factor”. Let me first define the fudge factor for the benefit of the readers. Fudge factor is the capacity of moral flexibility i.e. it is the amount of cheating you allow yourself before you start thinking of yourself as dishonest. Thus it goes without saying that expanding the fudge factor would set a higher threshold for “cheating-tolerance”. So, let’s now look at factors that lead to expansion of the fudge factor as they may capture reasons for “spot fixing” overtaking the moral conscience of players like Sreesanth. 

Experiments have outlined three key factors: 
  • Increasing distance from money 
  • Social proof or acceptance 
  • Personality traits 
Let me now define these in the current setting: 

Increasing distance from money: Isn't it far too easier to bring home, pencils or notebooks from the workplace rather than steal currency notes of equivalent value from your office? Experiments have confirmed that it becomes easier to cheat with “increasing distance from money" i.e. if you are paid in tokens or kinds rather than cash. The reason is that there are more stories that we can tell ourselves or it is easier to rationalize our acts. In case of Sreesanth, it may be possible that bookies lured him into spot fixing by providing expensive gifts, pleasure trips or other such favours rather than hard cash. 

Social proof or acceptance: It has been commonly observed that the tendency to cheat increases if one sees somebody from his/her class or friend circle indulging in this act. In fact, one interesting observation was that cheating increases if one sees student(s) from his/her college doing the same but goes down if the culprit is from a different college. Thus, the likes of Chandila, Chavan or Singh, who were his teammates at Rajasthan Royals would have had a major bearing on Sreesanth's act. 

Personality traits: As outlined, fudge factor is about rationalizing your acts so people who are more creative are likely to cheat much more. After all, they can tell better stories to themselves or rationalize to a much higher degree e.g. advertising executives of an ad agency cheated more that accountants of the firm. The conclusion for Sreesanth could be that his creativity led to his downfall. 

While the above factors, do present us with triggers for indulging into corrupt practices i.e. cheating after given one opportunity to cheat but it doesn't quite explain the outcomes when people are given multiple chances to cheat. Well, the experts explain this with “What the Hell” (WTH) effect. As per the WTH effect, people after cheating a little bit over a period of time, no longer rely on the "feel good" factor to rationalize cheating. Rather the WTH kicks in when people start enjoying cheating per se and the switch from “cheating a little bit” to “cheating a lot” takes place. It won’t be a surprise to know that Sreesanth was well into the WTH phase. 

Hope you enjoyed this blog. Looking forward to hearing from you. By the way, if missed my earlier post on “spot fixing”, here is the link to that. 

Image link (Sreesanth) 
Fudge factor image sourced from coursera videos


  1. He cheated due to his superiority complex in my opinion. With his behavior gestures and acts Sreesanth always gave the impression that he think very high of himself. While bowling also he seemed to be lost in his own world instead of following team strategy. Keeping these factors in mind we can say that may be he was always surrounded by sycophants who made him feel great and that's why he felt that he could do something like this and get away.

  2. Amazing blog and very interesting stuff you got here! I definitely learned a lot from reading through some of your earlier posts as well and decided to drop a comment on this one!