Income inequality and distrust foster academic dishonesty

College professors and students are in an arms race over cheating. Students find new sources for pre-written term papers; professors find new ways to check the texts they get for plagiarized material. But why are all these young people cheating? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests one reason: income inequality, which decreases the general trust people have toward each other.

Lukas Neville, a at Queen's University in Ontario, was inspired to do the study by his own teaching experience. "I ran into the question of academic dishonesty firsthand," he says. Like other instructors at universities across North America, he considered using services that automatically check students' papers for plagiarized material. "But it got me thinking about the actual underlying mechanism that promotes or inhibits academic dishonesty." He thought the answer might be trust; if students don't trust each other, some of them might think they have to cheat to keep up with their unscrupulous . And other research has shown that this kind of is more likely to be found in places with high .

To look at the connection between trust, income inequality, and academic dishonesty, Neville took advantage of data from that breaks down search terms by state. Neville found data on searches on phrases like "free term paper," "buy term paper," and the names of cheating websites. He compared these to survey data on how trusting people are in each state and a measure of income inequality from the U.S. . He controlled for several other factors that could influence the number of searches, including how many students are in each state, how large the colleges in each state are, and average household income.

Indeed, the data showed that people who live in states with more income inequality were less trusting in general, and those states had more evidence of academic dishonesty. The next step, Neville says, will be to duplicate this finding using laboratory experiments, using pay structure to alter income inequality, then observing the effects on students' trust and dishonest behavior.

If one of the root causes of cheating is distrust, this could explain why measures like honor codes work, Neville says: when students trust that other people aren't cheating, they are less likely to cheat themselves. "As educators, there's not much you can do about the level of inequality in society, but we do have the ability to help foster trust in our colleges and classrooms," he says.


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Most high schoolers cheat -- but don't always see it as cheating

Citation: Income inequality and distrust foster academic dishonesty (2012, April 4) retrieved 20 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2012-04-income-inequality-distrust-foster-academic.html
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Apr 04, 2012
What? No...

People cheat if they are too lazy to properly prepare for the test, if they feel unprepared for the test, and/or if they are very stressed out regarding their anticipated performance on the test.

Apr 04, 2012
Why would anyone bother buying or cheating for a term paper? I mean, you have all the time in the world to rewrite it, discuss it with the professor, perfect it... sounds like pure laziness to me.

Cheating on a test is more understandable, since you only get one chance and it's usually worth a lot of points. But I just don't get why anyone would need to cheat on a paper or homework.

Apr 04, 2012
The people I knew of who bought or borrowed papers in college fell mostly into two categories: rich kids and guys from a few specific frats. In both cases, they didn't seem to think that rules applied to them - or that they should have to work to get ahead.

Apr 04, 2012
The people I knew of who bought or borrowed papers in college fell mostly into two categories: rich kids and guys from a few specific frats. In both cases, they didn't seem to think that rules applied to them - or that they should have to work to get ahead.

Case in point- George W. Bush!

Apr 05, 2012
Reminds me of myself and my younger sister at the dinner table when we were kids. We would argue over who got more peas, and would take offense if one had three or more peas over the other. We finally worked it out; when we were served something I didn't like, I let her have half of mine... and she'd do the same with anything she didn't like; knowing that I would eat almost anything.

Apr 05, 2012
Why would anyone bother buying or cheating for a term paper? I mean, you have all the time in the world to rewrite it, discuss it with the professor, perfect it... sounds like pure laziness to me.

Cheating on a test is more understandable, since you only get one chance and it's usually worth a lot of points. But I just don't get why anyone would need to cheat on a paper or homework.


What college did you go to? LOL. That sounds easy.

I never had an instructor like that in high school or college.

It was always X number of pages, Y number of minimum references, Z numbers of Days, a week or two, or usually the same day or next day, get it done or fail.

Apr 05, 2012
A study similar to this one has already been done. That one was about the upper class in society having no qualms over cheating on a test because they supposedly feel they are better than everyone else. Something to that effect. I think that both studies are a waste of time because it pigeon-holes everyone unfairly, and it doesn't allow for changes in attitude or personality, as though each individual is stuck in a time warp. I wish these "scientists" would stop trying to destroy the credibility of people who just happen to have money.

@Lurker. There is nothing wrong with structure and following a set curriculum in college. Consider yourself lucky.

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