The Integration of Rational Choice and Self-Efficacy Theories: A Situational Analysis of Student Misconduct

Article excerpt

Research on the causes of student misconduct in higher education has largely overlooked the values of integrating individual and situational perspectives to structure empirical examinations. Such research has important implications for the prevention and management of academic misconduct by higher education institutions. In this study, perceptual deterrence (Piquero & Pogarsky, 2002; Stafford & Warr, 1993) and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997) theories were adopted to model the impact of situational factors and individual differences on students' intentions to engage in plagiarism. A questionnaire using a scenario method and manipulating the situational deterrence variables of the certainty and severity of sanctions was administered to 536 undergraduate university students. Analysis of covariance results indicated that the objective manipulations of the certainty and severity of sanctions had no effect on intentions to engage in plagiarism. However, Tobit regression results indicated that both situational perceptions of costs and benefits, and academic self-efficacy were significant predictors of intentions to engage in plagiarism. Furthermore, academic self-efficacy was found to moderate the effects of deterrence perceptions on intentions to engage in plagiarism. The results highlight the significance of the interaction between situational and individual characteristics on decisions to engage in deviant behaviour. Implications for the management of misconduct in higher education institutions are discussed.

Keywords: academic misconduct, plagiarism, rational choice, perceptual deterrence theory, self-efficacy


Available evidence consistently indicates that academic misconduct is highly prevalent among higher education students (McCabe & Trevino, 1993, 1997; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Newstead, Franklyn-Stokes, & Armstead, 1996). Academic misconduct should not be viewed as a trivial form of deviant behaviour, as it has the potential to produce lasting repercussions for individuals and institutions. At an individual level, engagement in misconduct has the potential to compromise student learning, where knowledge may be deficient for future occupational roles or advanced study. At an institutional level, misconduct threatens the equity and efficacy of educational assessment and harms the reputation of educational institutions. Furthermore, misconduct may harm the integrity of the future workforce, where those who engage in misconduct may be more likely to engage in misconduct in their future occupational roles (Harding, Passow, Carpenter, & Finelli, 2004; Haswell, Jubb, & Wearing, 1999; McCabe, Butterfield, & Trevino, 2006).

While there is an extensive body of empirical research examining the causes and prevalence of academic misconduct among students in higher education institutions (Crown & Spiller, 1998; Whitley, 1998) only a limited number of attempts have been made to apply criminological theories as frameworks to guide investigations (for example see, Bolin, 2004; Cochran, Chamlin, Wood, & Sellers, 1999; Nagin & Pogarsky, 2003; Smith, Davy, Rosenberg, & Haight, 2002; Tibbetts, 1998, 1999; Vowell & Chen, 2004). However, attempts to model misconduct from criminological frames of reference have failed to incorporate individual-level constructs with direct theoretical and empirical relevance to academic contexts, instead relying on generalised constructs of individual differences, such as self-control. Investigations into the causes of student academic misconduct have focused on the roles of individual differences in identifying those most likely to engage in misconduct at the expense of neglecting the situational aspects of the educational environment that facilitate fraudulent academic behaviour. Criminological theories have the potential to model academic misconduct at multiple levels of analysis, including individual propensities, social processes and situational perspectives. …