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Perceptions of and Responses to Academic Dishonesty

Causes of Cheating: Moral Reasoning and Development, Extrinsic Motivation, Pressure to Attain High Grades, Peers' Behavior and Attitudes, Witnessing Cheating, Neutralizing Attitudes, Lack of Consequences

An extensive body of literature addresses the causes of cheating, including research examining the influence of moral reasoning and development (Diekhoff et al., 1996; Olafson, Schraw, Nadelson, Nadelson, & Kehrwald, 2013), extrinsic motivation (Jordan, 2001), pressure to attainn high grades (Bertram Gallant, 2008; Tippitt et al., 2009), perception of peers’ behavior and attitudes (Bath et al., 2014; Jordan, 2001; McCabe & Treviño, 1993), witnessing cheating (Jordan, 2001; O’Rourke et al., 2010), neutralizing attitudes (O’Rourke et al., 2010; Rettinger & Kramer, 2009), and the lack of consequences (Bertram Gallant, 2008; Murdock & Anderman, 2006).

Findings also illustrate that cheating behaviors are related to individual characteristics, such as grade point average, age, and personality traits, as well as situational factors, such as campus climate (see Davis, Drinan, & Bertram Gallant, 2009, for a review). In addition, severalstudies point to a lack of understanding or clear definition of cheating among students that may contribute to higher rates of cheating (Burrus, McGoldrick, & Schuhmann, 2007; Tippitt et al.,2009). 

Cheating extends beyond just test cheating and includes a wide range of behaviors, such as plagiarism, fabrication of data, unauthorized help on assignments and projects, and submitting others’ work as one’s own. A survey conducted in 2010 at Texas Tech University found that within the past 12 months, approximately 74% of students admitted to cheating on written work and exams (DuPree & Sattler, 2010). Research on the perceptions of what college students consider cheating demonstrates a wide range of understanding (e.g. Burrus et al., 2007; Carpenter, Harding, & Finelli, 2010). In one study, college students were asked to rate a list of behaviors as cheating, unethical but not cheating, or neither. Although most agreed that copying during a test was cheating (96.4%), other behaviors such as copying a paper or lab report (60.7%), working together on a take-home exam (39%), and delaying an exam or assignment with a false excuse (24.9%) were not viewed by many students as cheating. These findings demonstrate a need for clearly defining cheating behaviors for students. More important, the findings suggest that researchers should consider measures of cheating other than just asking students to self-report given the limited behaviors they define as academically dishonest.

The first goal of the present study was to extend our previous findings that demonstrated no differences between students from modified and no honor code schools on the perception of and responses to academically dishonest scenarios. We recruited students from small, medium, and large institutions with modified and no honor codes. We included only modified and non–honor code schools due to the difficulty of identifying and recruiting large institutions with a traditional honor code to participate. Based on our previous findings (Schwartz et al., 2013), we predicted no difference between students at modified and non–honor code schools in their perceptions or likelihood to report cheating, regardless of the size of institution. We did, however, expect students from modified honor code schools to have a better understanding of the honor code procedures and severity of sanctions for cheating, as we found this in our previous study. 

Individual Characteristics vs Situational Factors Affecting Cheating

Although class size and overall enrollment are potentially important variables that influence the effectiveness of an honor system, only a few studies have taken institution size into account (e.g., Arnold et al., 2007; Bowers, 1964; Davis et al., 1992), and others have studied students only at one size of institution (Gurung et al., 2012; McCabe & Treviño, 1993; McCabe et al., 2002; Schwartz et al., 2013). Few studies have examined
both size of institution and type of honor system. Although we did not predict an interaction between institution size and honor code type, we did predict that students attending small schools would rate the cheating behaviors as more dishonest and would be more likely to report the behavior to others when compared to students and medium and large institutions.


A convenience sample of undergraduate students (n = 928) from 12 public and private 4-year institutions participated in the study. Based on the Carnegie classifications, we placed each college into one of three categories: small (1,000–2,999 students), medium (3,000–9,999 students), and large (10,000 or more students). Participants were students enrolled at five small (n = 387), four medium (n = 249), and three large (n = 292) institutions. Student–faculty ratio at the institutions ranged from 11:1 to 25:1. In addition, 46% of the participants attended a school with a modified honor code, and 54% attended schools with no honor code. To extend our first study, participants from five small liberal arts colleges with modified honor code (n = 174) and no honor code (n = 213) were included in both the previous and current study (Schwartz et al., 2013).


Participants responded to a set of eight scenarios of academically dishonest behaviors that college students might experience while in college. Examples include unauthorized collaboration on an assignment, cheating during an exam, fabricating data for a lab report, turning in the same
paper for two courses, and purchasing a paper from an online source. The scenarios were developed for our first study (Schwartz et al., 2013) and were based on cheating behaviors identified in previous studies (e.g., Anderman & Murdock, 2007; Whitley & Keith-Spiegel, 2002). To control for order effects, participants responded to the scenarios in a random order. Using a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), participants indicated both the degree to which they believed the behavior was academically dishonest and the likelihood that they would report the behavior given the integrity policies at their institution.


Participants were contacted through an e-mail invitation that included a link to the survey. The first page included a consent form indicating that participation was anonymous. Demographic information was collected before presentation of the scenarios. After responding to the eight
scenarios, participants completed questions from the Burrus et al. (2007) survey. Participants were allowed to skip any of the questions and could end participation at any time. Those students receiving extra credit were directed to a separate link to record their participation. No identifying information was collected from participants.

The present study extended our earlier investigation on perceptions and responses to cheating scenarios among college students at different types of honor code institutions (Schwartz et al.,2013) by including institution size and student–faculty ratio. We compared two types of honor
code institutions (modified vs. none) at small, medium, and large institutions. Consistent with our first study (Schwartz et al., 2013), students from institutions with modified honor codes did not differ in their perceptions of or likelihood to report cheating when compared to students at
non–honor code institutions. We also did not find a difference in students’ responses to the scenarios based on size of institution. Further, student–faculty ratio was not correlated with responses to the cheating scenarios or self-reports of cheating.


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