Study examines the psychology behind students who don't cheat

August 17, 2008

While many studies have examined cheating among college students, new research looks at the issue from a different perspective – identifying students who are least likely to cheat.

The study of students at one Ohio university found that students who scored high on measures of courage, empathy and honesty were less likely than others to report their cheating in the past – or intending to cheat in the future.

Moreover, those students who reported less cheating were also less likely to believe that their fellow students regularly committed academic dishonesty.

People who don't cheat "have a more positive view of others," said Sara Staats, co-author of the research and professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Newark campus.

"They don't see as much difference between themselves and others."

In contrast, those who scored lower on courage, empathy and honesty – and who are more likely to report that they have cheated -- see other students as cheating much more often than they do, rationalizing their own behavior, Staats said.

The issue is important because most recent studies suggest cheating is common on college campuses. Typically, more than half – and sometimes up to 80 percent – of college students report that they have cheated.

Staats conducted the research with Julie Hupp, assistant professor of psychology and Heidi Wallace, an undergraduate psychology student, both at Ohio State-Newark.

They presented their results Aug. 16 and 17 in Boston at two poster sessions at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Staats said this continuing research project aimed to find out more about the students who don't cheat – a group that Staats and her colleagues called "academic heroes."

"Students who don't cheat seem to be in the minority, and have plenty of opportunities to see their peers cheat and receive the rewards with little risk of punishment," Staats said. "We see avoiding cheating as a form of everyday heroism in an academic setting."

The research presented at APA involved two separate but related studies done among undergraduates at Ohio State's Newark campus. One study included 383 students and another 73 students.

The students completed measures that examined their bravery, honesty and empathy. The researchers separated those who scored in the top half of those measures and contrasted them with those in the bottom half.

Those who scored in the top half – whom the researchers called "academic heroes" – were less likely to have reported cheating in the past 30 days and the last year compared to the non-heroes. They also indicated they would be less likely to cheat in the next 30 days in one of their classes.

The academic heroes also reported they would feel more guilt if they cheated compared to non-heroes.

"The heroes didn't rationalize cheating the way others did, they didn't come up with excuses and say it was OK because lots of other students were doing it," Staats said.

Staats said one reason to study cheating at colleges and universities is to try to figure out ways to reduce academic dishonesty. The results from this research suggest a good target audience for anti-cheating messages.

When the researchers asked students if they intended to cheat in the future, nearly half -- 47 percent -- said they did not intend to cheat but nearly one in four -- 24 percent -- agreed or strongly agreed that they would cheat.

The remaining 29 percent indicated that they were uncertain whether or not they would cheat.

"These 29 percent are like undecided voters – they would be an especially good focus for intervention," Staats said. "Our results suggest that interventions may have a real opportunity to influence at least a quarter of the student population."

Staats said more work needs to be done to identify the best ways to prevent cheating. But this research, with its focus on positive psychology, suggests one avenue, she said.

"We need to do more to recognize integrity among our students, and find ways to tap into the bravery, honest and empathy that was found in the academic heroes in our study," she said.

Source: Ohio State University

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not rated yet Aug 17, 2008
An interesting study that studies morality rather than the lack of morality.

While immoral people may increase their immoral behavior in the presence of others who behave immorally, moral behavior is seldom predicated on the actions of others.

not rated yet Aug 17, 2008
It really comes down to facing reality and living consciously.
not rated yet Aug 18, 2008
As a young person, I tried 'lying',
'cheating', 'stealing' . . .
I wasn't very good at it, and felt
terrible even at that age.

A classmate of my first 'post graduate' seminar, who reported having received an "A" to my "C",
was puzzled that I had not done like the rest of the class; and copied text reviews 'verbatim' from reviews available in the Library!
I would haved pulled an "A" as did they!
I could have devoted the 'saved' reading time to study of my other classes!
The following semester, I attended full-time schedules at two institutions, about 31 hours.
I did all the work! My GPA was 3.85 for the semester!

Where did I go wrong?

Roy Stewart,
Phoenix AZ

not rated yet Aug 18, 2008
Gozar said: "It really comes down to facing reality..."

There is a paper (abstract/link to full txt here- http://www.bbsonl...ex.html)
that posits sociopathic personalities are a successful reproductive strategy, but only at low occurrences.

While I believe the ideal of harmony and balance is what the majority of people value, however poorly our actions reflect that, it may be that tendencies towards such amoral strategies (sociopathy, fascism, hedonism, blinding rage, etc.) have allowed for the human race to not prematurely settle into an incomplete reality (Renaissance, Civil Rights movement, Einstein's Annus Mirabilis).

In short, perhaps finding a workable balance of as many different resources as possible is preferable to finding a singular ideal.

P.s. not trying to come off aggressive, it's just that this paper's theory had a strong impact on me.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2008
The academic heroes also reported they would feel more guilt if they cheated compared to non-heroes.

Bravo, nice research.
Now, regardless of "Just Say No" campaigns, until the Ivory tower differentiates "Academic Heroes" from other GPA's, cheating still bestows superior employment opportunity.
not rated yet Aug 18, 2008
Hmm. I wonder how this applies to the soccer field. I notice that things are different from game to game. As the perception of the other team as "cheating" (fouls) rises, the tendency to "cheat" oneself increases, does it not?
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2008
I have never known a student to not cheat at least occasionally. Nearly every homework assignment I have ever had has been assigned to be done "entirely on your own". Yet students READILY discuss the homework (and the answers) with each other (often in study groups with people helping each other learn) and even with the professor (who often gives them the path required to find the answer if not outright solving it for them). I've seen grades and comprehension go up from getting help from others, it all depends on how you "cheat". Explicit copying is outright stupid (you learn nothing), but refusing to seek help because someone put down the increadibly draconian law of "you can't get help" is an absolutly dimwitted idea and goes counter to just about everything in both the hard or soft sciences.
not rated yet Aug 18, 2008
I concur with Capt Spaulding. This "cheat" thing is all subjective - is working together really cheating? The system usually don't teach you that collaboration is more powerful than being the rugged individual doing it all by him/herself.
not rated yet Aug 21, 2008
I have to disagree with Capt Spaulding in that I never had a prof who didn't encourage people to discuss homework assignments together. As a physics major the entire class would get together everday in the physics lounge to work together with the Profs and TAs to complete the work.

As a sociology major and philosphy minor every paper I had to write the prof first started by discussing the issue in class as a group, then on the bottom of the assignment it would say something to the effect of: "Please discuss this topic with other students as you work through this issue. All work handed in must clearly be your own, however"

In other words, as long as the paper was clearly a synthesis of your own creation, it didn't matter how you learned the material.

Cheating is plagerism and every student I knew that was caught working to closely together so that their results were remarkably similar got busted... HARD.

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