Why Do Students Cheat?

atkins-bookshelf-educationAs long as students have been tested, there has been cheating; however all across the nation, cheating is on the rise due to technological accomplices: the internet and digital devices — specifically, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. The rising trend of cheating comes under the microscope in two insightful books, Student Cheating and Plagiarism in the Internet Era by Ann Lathrop and Kathleen Foss and Academic Dishonesty by Bernard Whitley, Jr. and Patricia Keith-Spiegel, aimed at academics. According to the authors, there is a long list of why students cheat. Here are some of the key rationalizations:

External Pressures
Need to excel, earn high GPA, regardless of the cost
Heavy academic workload; not enough time
Pressure from peers and/or parents
Other people cheat and get away with it

Poor Teaching
Teacher failed to teach material effectively
Teacher is tough on grading
Teacher develops tests that are too difficult

Lack of Effort
Did not attend classes
Did not study
Did not do the assignments

Taking Advantage of Opportunities
The teacher left the classroom during test
The teacher wasn’t paying attention during test
Other students don’t cover their tests

Outside of the excuses that students provide for cheating, what does science teach us about cheating? In a fascinating article, “Inside the Cheater’s Mind” for The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova presents a fascinating summary of notable research on cheating. She begins by looking at the work of early pioneers in the area of moral development. According to psychologists Jean Piaget (Piaget’s Theory of Moral Development, 1932) and Lawrence Kohlberg (Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, 1958), cheating is determined by our moral development; it is due to a moral intelligence that is not fully developed. Kohlberg, who built on Piaget’s work, believes that people pass through six stages of moral development: Obedience and Punishment Orientation, Individualism and Exchange, Good Interpersonal Relationships, Maintaining the Social Order, Social Contract and Individual Rights, and Universal Principles. In short, we become more ethical as we get older.

In his paper, “Behavioral Decision Theory and Business Ethics: Skewed Trade-Offs Between Self and Others” (1996), psychologist and economist George Loewenstein believes that behavioral decision theory provides a better explanation for cheating. When faced with the opportunity of cheating, people will decide based on weighing the benefits of cheating versus its costs. David Messico and Max Bazerman from the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University believe that cheating is results from the interplay of our “beliefs about how the world works, the nature of the causal network in which we live, and the ways in which our decisions influence the world.” Over time, Bazerman refined his initial views, stating that cheating occurs on a subconscious level, influenced by subtle situational forces.

A number of studies have confirmed that situational factors directly influence cheating. One study revealed how lighting impacted cheating. A dimly-lit room created “illusory anonymity” increasing the amount of cheating on a set of math problems. Another study found that cheating increased in the context of messy environments. Several recent studies point out how a sense of perceived power and achievement lead to cheating, creating a mindset that a person is different — feeling better than others, which increases the tendency to increase cheating. Other studies have shown that cheating increases when people are physically or mentally tired or when they are sleep-deprived.

Read related posts: Most Common Homework Excuses
How to Get the Most Out of College?
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students
Education is the Engine of Personal Development
What Makes a Great Teacher?
The College Admissions Mania
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?
Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses
Education or Indoctrination?
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me

For further reading: http://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/BehDecBusEthics.pdf
http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/ethical-leadership-and-the-psychology-of-decision-making/
http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/inside-the-cheaters-mind

 

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