Cheating in the United States remains a huge problem. Although cheating exists in almost every field, it is most detrimental when done in an academic or, worse yet, political setting. To this end, it is necessary to identify three of the largest cheating demographics, find common characteristics of these demographics, and finally, to find ways to reach out to these audiences in order to curb cheating among them. The most important thing to consider when identifying the most problematic demographics is the impact these demographics have on cheating in general. With this in mind, the first step is to identify these demographics, and to find some characteristics people within these demographics share.
The first is children and teenagers, or anyone else enrolled in a K-12 school. This demographic is extremely important because they are at the age where habits are formed most easily. In addition, they are the most impressionable group, and will often themselves cheat if they see their neighbor doing the same and getting away with it. With this in mind it is possible to identify three characteristics of K-12 children. First, as mentioned earlier, they are at an extremely impressionable age; one where being taught what is right and wrong is crucial, and where the meaning of integrity develops naturally. This establishes honest habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. In addition, students in K-12 are much more likely to form social groups, which work together in order to cheat so that the group may all benefit. Second, pressure from parental units is a large source of stress for K-12 students, and sometimes this forces students to take desperate measures. A study by Barbara Flom showed that the most common reason for students to commit academic dishonesty is because of pressure from parents. Oftentimes this pressure comes in the form of forcing them to get good grades or face punishment at home, in addition to the consequences at school. Third, Flom’s study also showed that the vast majority of K-12 students, 95%, considered themselves morally responsible, while 80% admitted to cheating. This shows that students manage to somehow rationalize their cheating to themselves, which does not excuse their behavior. The method to solve this problem is central. In short, the idea here is to educate these impressionable minds about the importance of proper study habits, as well as maintaining a strong moral compass. Explaining to early childhood educators, parents, and students alike about how cheating when young can carry over into college and beyond will help to curb the problem of cheating once everyone is on the same page and can work together to find solutions.
The second group is only a little older: college students. Oftentimes these are students who established academic dishonesty habits in K-12, and simply never learned to stop cheating. The first main characteristic of college students is that, if conditions are right, most college students see no problem with cheating. A study by Lene Arnett Jensen, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, S. Shirley Feldman, and Elizabeth Cauffman found that most students approved of cheating if the reasons were examples like “needed to pass the class in order to get a job that would let [a student] help her family.” This leads to the second characteristic of college students: a general lack of focus. Oftentimes, college students are juggling many different responsibilities in addition to college, such as several jobs or family care. This makes it hard for them to put forth the effort required to pass exams and the like without resorting to academic dishonesty. Lastly, college students are more adult than K-12 students, and as such, are much more aware of their actions and the consequences of said actions. The best way to convince college students of the consequences of cheating is via the peripheral route. Namely, to have a trusted source, such as their professors, simply reiterate the consequences of academic dishonesty, which, in most colleges, is automatic failure from the course or even suspension from the university.
The final target audience is politicians, long notorious for their immoral (and sometimes illegal) practices. The first characteristic of them is a massive amount of influence. In fact, they would not be politicians if they did not have charisma and power over people. It is this power that must be used honestly. The second characteristic is a lack of accountability. Speaking generally, politicians do not usually have a large amount of personal stake in the happenings of their campaigns, aside from their own personal careers. Thusly, politicians do not have much to lose when one represents, say, a multi-billion-dollar investment into alternative energy. Lastly, politicians, again speaking generally, are susceptible to the temptation of material rewards even more than non-politicians. A study by Rufus Pollock found that dishonesty in politicians is due to a response to incentives, not any sort of underlying “evilness” in politicians. Solutions to this problem are difficult, but the most effective way would be through the central processing route. In this case, it is necessary to stress the financial and social impacts of dishonesty.
While dishonesty will be a part of the world for centuries to come, it can be curbed with the correct application of education. The common thread between these three groups is that they are not inherently bad people but feel that they are forced into situations where they must cheat. Thus, making them aware of their actions and consequences is essential for understanding.
Koss J. (2011) “Academic Dishonesty Among Adolescents” p. 6-16
Jensen L.A., Arnett J.J., Feldman S.S. (2001) “It’s Wrong, But Everybody Does It: Academic Dishonesty Among High School and College Students” Contemporary Educational Psychology 27 p.209-228
Pollock R., “A Model of Political Honesty, or: Every Country Gets the Politicians It Deserves”