Risk Takers More Likely To Cheat, Ohio State Researchers Say

Oct 20, 2017

The best way to predict whether a student will cheat in the classroom is a personality trait, says a researcher at The Ohio State University.

Eric Anderman, the chair and professor of the department of educational studies, said students who identify as having a high need for sensation, or risk takers, are far more likely to cheat, especially when those students dislike the course they’re taking.

The finding comes from a study of 409 undergraduate students at two large research universities in different parts of the country.

To reach their findings, Anderman, along with graduate assistant Sungjun Won, surveyed students on a variety of topics, including personality traits, the ethics of cheating, and their perceptions of how much their instructors emphasized test results.

Anderman said he’s conducted studies on cheating for more than 20 years and has consistently found in the past that one of the best predictors is the focus of the instructor. When a teacher emphasizes mastering the content over passing a test, students are not only less likely to cheat, they also report in higher numbers that cheating is unethical.

In his latest study, published in the journal Ethics and Behavior, Anderman said while the correlation between mastery and less cheating held true, students who affirmatively answered questions about interests in bungee jumping and skydiving were more likely to cheat no matter what tactic the instructor took.

“In this particular study, what we found was the emphasis on mastery still predicted the belief on cheating, but it didn’t really predict the behavior,” Anderman said.

The takeaway from the study, Anderman said, is that the myths about cheating aren’t true. People tend to believe there are higher rates of cheating in larger classrooms, in classes that are required for graduation, and in men over women.

“All that really mattered was if you were a risk taker,” Anderman said.

Practically, Anderman said the study should push both teachers and college professors to be more aware of the personalities of their students, but he also points to previous findings that educators who emphasize mastery over testing will reduce cheating rates in the classroom.

Anderman added there is still a strong correlation between the teaching style and students who say it’s unethical to cheat.

“[That] has larger implications for what it means when students go out into the world,” he said. “You know, what does it take to get ahead in the world?”

While his latest study surveyed undergraduate students, Anderman said teachers in every classroom, no matter the age, can learn from his work.