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Unformatted text preview: Cheating and Moral Judgment in the College Classroom: A Natural Experiment Tim West Sue Pickard Ravenscroft Charles B. Shrader ABSTRACT. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a natural experiment involving academic cheating by university students. We explore the rela- tionship of moral judgment (as measured using the defining issues test) to actual behavior, as well as the relationship between the honesty of students self-reports and the extent of cheating. We were able to determine the extent to which students actually cheated on the take- home portion of an accounting exam. The take-home problem was not assigned with the intent of inducing cheating among students. However, the high rate of observed cheating prompted the instructor to return to class and ask the students to provide information on their motivation. The students responses are the data analyzed in this natural experiment. We found that in a simple regression the relationship between moral judgment scores and cheating behavior was insignificant. However, when we tested whether including Utilizer scores (i.e. the extent to which people select actions based on notions of justice) affected the relationship of cheating and moral judgment we found that Utilizer affected the relationship significantly. Finally, we found that moral judgment and honesty were not related, but higher levels of cheating behavior related to less honesty. KEY WORDS: accounting students, cheating, defining issues test, ethics, honesty, moral judgment ABBREVIATIONS: DIT defining issues test; P Score Post-conventional score response percentage; U score utilizer score on the DIT, the extent to which subjects selected responses that were consistent with a reliance on justice-based reasoning Introduction Academic cheating is a type of behavior that is highly salient to educators but is problematic for experimentalists. Educators have immediate con- cerns about cheating because its occurrence distorts the assessment of learning. Furthermore, cheating may indicate that values considered essential to good citizenship and to good business practice have not been instilled. Cheating is almost universally con- demned yet is widely engaged in, if self-reports are taken as credible (Moore, 1991). Whether or not cheating is on the increase is disputed by researchers (McCabe and Bowers, 1994; Spiller and Crown, 1995), but concern about the issue remains high (Crown and Spiller, 1998). Some faculty members have become motivated to make the effort to teach ethics because of the rela- tionship of behavior exhibited by college students and their behavior subsequent to graduate as they engage in business activities (Sims, 1993; Stevens and Stevens, 1987). This relationship has not been di- rectly established, but some suggestive evidence ex- ists. Researchers have found that college honor codes are associated with lower rates of cheating and that the existence of a college honor code has an impact on subsequent behavior in the workplace (McCabe...
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- Spring '10