Further Reading
  • Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do
    Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do
    by Stephen F. Davis, Patrick F. Drinan, Tricia Bertram Gallant
  • Psychology of Academic Cheating
    Psychology of Academic Cheating
    Academic Press
  • Academic Dishonesty: An Educator's Guide
    Academic Dishonesty: An Educator's Guide
    by Bernard E. Whitley Jr., Patricia Keith-Spiegel
  • My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture
    My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture
    by Susan D. Blum
  • Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success, Second Edition (Chicago Guides to Academic Life)
    Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success, Second Edition (Chicago Guides to Academic Life)
    by Charles Lipson
  • Plagiarism: A How-Not-to Guide for Students
    Plagiarism: A How-Not-to Guide for Students
    by Barry Gilmore
  • Quick Coach Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism
    Quick Coach Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism
    by Rosemarie Menager-Beeley, Lyn Paulos
  • Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct and Empowering Change
    Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct and Empowering Change

Academic Dishonesty


Study: Student Cheaters Think Highly of Themselves

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.


Cheating Honor Students: More Common Than People Think

A common assumption about academic dishonesty is that it's the marginal students who mostly cheat. But research has long found that cheating is also common about top students, and the reasons are obvious enough: Highly competitive students are extremely focused on success and worried about their grades -- even tracking their GPA down to the fourth decimal point. Some of these students will do anything to bolster their performance, including cheat.

This truth was underscored by a recent high school cheating scandal in Revere, Massachussetts, where 60 students in a junior physics class reportedly cheated on a final exam. Most of the cheaters are honor students. The cheating was discovered by a computer grading system. As reported by the Revere Journal:

Once that was discovered, school officials talked to a number of the students – some of them who were in the Top 10 of the class – and it was determined that something was amiss.

Dakin said several students told them that someone had taken pictures of the test with a cell phone and then texted those pictures to numerous students. Those photos were followed up with a text that contained answers to the multiple-choice test.

Cheating among top high school students has been getting more attention lately thanks to the documentary, The Race to Nowhere. But some experts have been on this case for many years. For example, Denise Pope's excellent book, Doing School, gave considerable attention to ambitious student cheaters (as did my own book). Pope has suggested that cheating among AP and honors students is even higher than cheating among ordinary students.

Pope, who teaches at Stanford University's School of Education, doesn't just write about these problems. She's also taking action. She founded and directed Stressed-Out Students, which later became Challenge Success. The organization has a research agenda as well as an activist bent -- engaging parents, educators, and students. Here's how Challenge Success describes its mission in part:

Our current educational system and parenting practices are out of alignment with the well-documented needs of children. As a result, we are seeing rising and debilitating levels of emotional problems and educational distress. Experts are documenting high levels of anxiety disorders, depression, stress, disengagement with learning, cheating and boredom. This is as true for the student struggling to pass the high school exit exam, as it is for the student who is overloaded with AP courses and extracurricular activities.

Our culture’s current configuration of success is too narrow - focused primarily on a limited number of academic skills. In the world our students are about to enter, success comes in many forms. Without an appropriately broad notion of success, many students are working to the point of exhaustion, while many more are simply disengaging from a system that does not address the diversity of skills, interests and capacities that different children have. The Challenge Success vision is to develop a plan to prevent these tolls and allow all youth to thrive. The tragedy is that these tolls on children are preventable.


But the problem is this: As I describe in my book, the winner-take-all dynamics of competition are deeply entrenched in our society. For instance, many of America's top companies and professional graduate programs recruit exclusively from the top colleges. Which means that if you don't get into one of these schools, you won't have a shot at any number of opportunities. In turn, given growing inequality and spreading insecurity -- given that it's mainly the top 10 percent of the labor force that has gotten most of the income gains in recent years while ordinary households are ever more squeezed -- failing to be a top high school student can have negative lifelong economic ramifications.

So, yes, we need alternatives to the race to nowhere among the stressed AP set. But it's also clear that these alternatives must include structural changes to America's economy.


Inequality and the SAT Cheating Scandal

Many educators and parents were stunned by the recent SAT cheating scandal on Long Island, which has led to the arrest of 20 current and former students so far. But there's little surprising about this episode: People cheat when there are rational incentives to do so, and never has it made more sense for students to cut corners -- and take big risks -- to improve their academic standing.

Young people today are anxious about getting into a top college, and for good reasons. While going to a competitive school has always conferred rewards, these advantages have soared amid rising economic inequality. In an America where the winners are pulling away from everyone else and the middle class is getting walloped, savvy young people are more determined than ever to be on the right side of this growing chasm.

A generation ago it wasn't all that hard to afford a nice house and middle-class lifestyle in a top suburb. If you went to college -- nearly any college -- and worked hard, chances are you'd be able to live the American dream. Not anymore. The house where I grew up in Westchester County, which my parents bought for $70,000 in 1971, recently sold for over a million dollars. Even the starter homes in my old neighborhood, which factory workers used to be able to afford on one salary, now go for high-six figures.

You can't make the kind of money that requires by doing OK; you need to do really well. And that, in turn, means playing every card right from age 15 onward: excelling in high school, scoring high on the SAT, going to a good college, probably also getting a graduate degree, and then working in a lucrative profession.

The SAT cheaters surely grasped this. Many parents, particularly in suburbs that prize their schools, stress the stakes of academic success at every turn. If anything, they feel even more anxiety than their kids about college admissions. Another reality understood by everyone is that great grades and test scores can make the difference between landing generous scholarships or carrying student debt for decades.

Read More


Views of God Influence Cheating Behavior

Does fear of God make students more honest? Apparently so, according to a new study by psychology researchers the University of British Columbia.

The study found that students who think God is a mean and punishing figure are less likely to cheat than those who think God is caring and forgiving.

"Taken together, our findings demonstrate, at least in some preliminary way, that religious beliefs do have an effect on moral behavior, but what matters more than whether you believe in a god is what kind of god you believe in," said one of the researchers, Azim Shariff.

The study found no difference in attitudes on cheating between non-believers and those who believe in a forgiving god. So it is not religiousity per se that makes the key difference, but a punitive kind of religion.

However, other studies have found that religious students in general are less likely to cheat. For instance, a study published in 2005 by David A. Rettinger and Augustus E. Jordan reported that "more religiosity correlates with reduced reports of cheating in all courses." One reason, these authors said, was that religious students were less likely to have the grade orientation associated with cheating.


Cheating by Law School Students

It is now no secret that MBA students often cheat, but much less has been written about cheating in law school. A 2006 study by Don McCabe, Linda Trevino, and Kenneth Butterfield found that 45 percent of law school students admitted some cheating. But that study actually focused primarily on cheating by MBA students and didn't explore in depth the dynamics of cheating by law students. 

There has been some anecdotal discussion of cheating by law students over the years. Two years ago, Syracuse University College of Law changed its rules about bathroom breaks during exams to reduce cheating. An email explaining the change to students said that "During this exam period, we have received a significant number of reports from (first-year) students alleging academic dishonesty." The problem was not just students using bathroom breaks to cheat, but using other techniques as well. Administrators at the school promised to get tough in a variety of ways to reduce cheating by its law students. 

Cheating has also gotten attention at Fordham Law School. One student there was so incensed at cheating by fellow law school students he wrote to the website Abovethelaw.com to complain:

I am a current [Fordham law student] and I am contacting you because of the widespread and pervasive cheating that appears to take place amongst a portion of the current 1L class. Specifically for my closed book [Redacted] exam this spring semester there were a number of students who left the class under the guise of a “bathroom break” to consult their outlines. Furthermore there are a number of allegations that students brought outlines into the room and were copying from their notes into their bluebooks before the time began. Unfortunately school officials refuse to acknowledge a problem and have failed to implement an effective enforcement policy to minimize cheating.

Pretty bad for a Jesuit university.

As for the motives of cheating by law school students, nothing here will surprise long-time observers of academic integrity issues: law students cheat because the pressure is intense and the stakes are high -- and getting higher as tuition rises for law school and student debt loads increase. 

Student cheating is often related to an obsession with grades, the folcrum through which anxiety about high stakes is channeled, and as William Chamberlain pointed out in an astute column in the National Law Journal, the grades of law school students play a huge role in determining their future chances of economic and career success:

In no other profession do grades play such a central role in hiring decisions, and they matter even ten years out of law school. 

Grades especially matter at the largest firms, which pay six-figure salaries to students right out of law school. Because supply far exceeds demand for those positions, grades become an efficient evaluation tool, however flawed, for these employers. They also influence hiring at the federal government honors programs. Judicial clerkships at all levels have become more competitive in terms of grades. Even non-profits are not immune. Several post-graduate public interest fellowship programs consider grades. 

Chamberlain points out the importance of grades increases during hard economic times, because fewer lawyers are being hired, increasing the competition for jobs. 

The downturn in legal hiring has made getting good grades, particularly in the first year, even more important. Formal summer programs at large firms have become so small that many firms can make offers to the same set of "top" students and not be too disappointed if they do not get all of them to accept. What do "good" grades mean these days? Is a 3.3 "good enough"? a 3.6?