Attitudes toward Cheating of Self and Others by College Students and Professors

Article excerpt

Psychologists and educators have become increasingly concerned with the apparent rise in academic dishonesty (e.g., Collison, 1990; Janya, 1991; Kibler, 1992). Indeed, the percentages of students who report having cheated are alarming. For example, in a recent large-scale survey of over 6,000 students, Davis, Grover, Becker, and McGregor (1992) found that 76% of the students reported to have cheated in high school or college. Other studies corroborate similar levels of reported dishonesty (e.g., Greene, 1992; Haines, Kiefhoff, LaBeff, & Clark, 1986; Houston, 1986; Livosky & Tauber, 1992). Researchers have suggested a number of situational and dispositional factors which might account for the high levels of reported cheating. For example, Keller (1976; cited in Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor, 1992) and Singhal (1982) have reported that competition for grades was regarded by students as a major reason for cheating. Haines et al. (1986) found that cheaters tend to be immature and not committed to academics. These authors also found that students who cheat tend to "neutralize" their behavior. That is, the individual engages in a rationalization-like process the purpose of which is to guard against his/her own disapproval of the deviant behavior, as well as the disapproval of others. In a similar vein, Forsyth, Pope, and McMillan (1985) report that the external causal attributions of students who engage in academic dishonesty are greater than for those students who do not engage in such behavior. In view of these findings, we wondered about the kinds of attitudes toward cheating that students attribute to professors. Given the prevalence of cheating, do students rationalize their behavior by believing that professors have tolerant attitudes and generally condone such conduct? Recent data shows that professors sometimes ignore evidence of cheating and may consider this inaction appropriate under certain conditions (Tabachnick, Keith-Spiegel, & Pope, 1991). In fact, Haines et al. (1986) found that only 1.3% of their sample of students reported having been caught cheating. Moreover, Davis, Simon, Handler, and Miller (1992) have found that a relatively large proportion of students who admitted to having cheated (80% of high school students and approximately 50% of college students) did so on repeated occasions. As professors are required to promote academic integrity, one would expect that, in general, they hold attitudes toward cheating that are more condemnatory than the attitudes held by students. A recent study by Gardner and Melvin (1988) confirms this hypothesis. Although McLaughlin and Ross (1989) have found that high school teachers and administrators rated the seriousness of cheating behaviors significantly higher than students, other studies show general agreement between faculty and students on what specific situations constitute acts of cheating (e.g., Stern & Havlicek, 1986). For example, Livosky and Tauber (1992) did not find any significant differences between college students and professors in the degree of seriousness attributed to certain cheating behaviors, for example, premeditated vs. opportunistic cheating. In addition, these authors found that students from a private college were actually more likely than professors to view certain acts as cheating. Professors may also disagree as to what constitutes actual cheating. For example, Singhal (1982) has found that only 51% of the faculty surveyed considered copying homework or laboratory reports as cheating. This may help explain the high percentages of students who cheat on repeated occasions (Davis, Simon, Handler, & Miller, 1992).

Given these discrepancies, the question arises as to what students think are the typical college professor's attitudes toward cheating and, more importantly, whether students' perceptions of professors' attitudes differ from the actual attitudes held by professors. In line with the work of Forsyth et al. …