One common approach to convincing students not to cheat is to tell them they will regret later that they took short cuts. The logic here is simple enough: When we do bad things, we usually regret them down the line -- and, hey, if young people just knew that they'd feel crappy later on about cheating, they would be more likely to be academically honest.
Well, now comes a study that suggests that maybe this logic is naive. Maybe students not only don't feel guilty about cheating, but actually feel better about themselves.
The study was done by four scholars interested in self-deception: Zoë Chance, Michael I. Norton, Francesca Gino, and Dan Ariely. And its conclusions are pretty damn alarming for anyone worried about academic dishonesty: "We find that those who exploit opportunities to cheat on tests are likely to engage in self-deception, inferring that their elevated performance is a sign of intelligence. . . our findings show that people not only fail to judge themselves harshly for unethical behavior, but can even use the positive results of such behavior to see themselves as better than ever."
The scholars say that there is a cost to this cheating, but it's not what you would think. It's not guilt. Rather, the cost is that cheaters who think they achieve good results on their own go on to think that they will perform just as well down the line, when they are not cheating. That lack of awareness results in deflated expectations but -- and get this -- such obliviousness to the reality of their true abilities persists anyway. We cheat, think we are smarter, get zinged because we are actually not smarter, but go on thinking we are smarter. Weird.
The study is based on experiments and is complex. So I won't try to summarize the methodology here. But check it out.