A further examination of why students cheat

We’ve talked before about the cheater’s high, how people experience satisfaction when they cheat. While it explains that unethical behavior can stimulate a sense of achievement for the cheater rather than shame or guilt, it doesn’t explain why we resort to this unethical behavior in the first place.

The Cheater’s High study showed that people couldn’t accurately predict their emotional reaction to cheating. When asked how they would feel afterwards, most subjects replied, guilty or shameful, yet they felt accomplished and satisfied!

So what forces us to cheat on an exam even if we know cheating is bad?

Peer pressure

If you’ve ever been in a group of 4-5 people when everyone was discussing a cheating strategy, either because you thought you could beat the individual proctor (the human), you know how difficult it is to be the one to spoil it for everyone by saying no (let alone preach on the morality or ethics).

Groupthink makes individual responsibility irrelevant. Social psychologist, Irving Janis, who coined the term back in 1972, describes groupthink as an effort to minimize conflict of ideas in order to achieve group conformity. We don’t think clearly, we put moral judgment aside and we yield to group consensus, irrationalizing the rational.

But acting in favor of group cohesion, is not the only reason we might yield to cheating.

Prospect of Reward

People get excited when the cheating reward is to be split among many. The idea of being a successful accomplice in a grand scheme makes each member more likely to ignore any moral reluctance and focus on the prize. The anticipation of a substantial reward; parents’ approval, passing an exam, graduating, having a story to tell, all act as incentives that cloud our mental clarity and moral judgment.

Beating the system

When there are loopholes in what looks like an unfair, harsh educational system, the student is less likely to follow her moral compass. If the opportunity to beat the system exists, they will take it.

If the proctor doesn’t patrol during a test, if there’s no ID verification when sitting for an exam, cheating not only becomes an option, it can become a mission to prove the system’s flawed.

The student can do as much for peer pressure and the lure of groupthink. They can minimize peer pressure through rationalization, risk examination, and assumption testing. They can also expose the falsehood of incentives; to see that parent approval won’t be genuine or that passing an exam with their own worth will have a whole lot different meaning.

Exam rigorousness and credibility is not the student’s job however. Educational institutions can improve their own credibility as a knowledge institution by offering anti-cheating proctoring procedures. By doing this it shows cheating is risky and decreases the overall value and credibility of any award or certificate the student may earn as a result.