Senior AP student Bailey West’s* week includes 3 AP classes, a choir concert on Tuesday and a part-time job. On top of all of that, she has a book report due by Friday accompanied by an Environmental Science test. She won’t be able to juggle it all without using Wikipedia or texting her classmates for answers to her study guide. West knows she is not unlike many other East students with a full course load who try to save time and effort by cheating.
New research shows that cheating may actually make cheating students feel powerful. Accessibility to technology like Facebook and group messaging have made it even easier to get away academic dishonesty.
During West’s sophomore year, she and nearly a hundred sophomore chemistry students were in a Facebook group where worksheets, labs and test answers were posted daily. West believes these kinds of cheating methods continue to function unbeknownst to teachers because most just choose to ignore the possibility that their students would deceive them.
“I think if teachers want to prevent cheating, they can prevent cheating,” West said. “I’ve never cheated in a class where I really respected the teacher. Other teachers don’t follow through on their threats to punish students that cheat, and it shows [students] they can get away with it.”
Many psychologists have attempted to study the motivation behind the phenomenon of studying. This month, Dr. Nicole Ruedy and her research team at the University of Washington in Seattle published a journal of multiple studies entitled “The Cheater’s High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior.” Ruedy’s studies focus on the psychological impacts of cheating and the correlation between unethical action and a feeling of power.
Prior to one of Ruedy’s studies, participants’ baseline moods were evaluated. Later, Ruedy administered a word-unscrambling test to participants, giving them an answer key for them to grade their own work. Forty one percent of participants changed their answers, believing the researchers would not be able to tell they had done so. A follow-up evaluation of the moods of the participants after they had changed their answers showed a great increase in positive emotion or what Ruedy calls a “cheater’s high.”
These findings could explain to students why, instead of feeling a sense of nervousness, they get a small thrill or Reudy’s idea of a “cheater’s high” from duping their teachers or parents.
West argues that the habitual nature of cheating at East shouldn’t be attributed to the thrill or the difficulty of assignments, but to the ease with which students can turn in work that is not their own.
“I’m guilty of being in group messages where people send pictures of homework assignments,” West said. “It’s just out of pure laziness because so many teachers give completion grades.”
Ruedy believes students get a feeling of happiness from successfully cheating, and this dishonest behavior could become a pattern.
“The danger is that this might be self-replicating,” Ruedy said. “The high cheaters feel might encourage them to cheat more and more and maybe even go to further lengths to get it.”
According to U.S. News and World Report, East leads high schools in the district with its average ACT composite score of 25.2. Forty six percent of the student body is enrolled in AP accredited classes, and East is one of three schools in the district to offer International Baccalaureate classes. Even though honors-level students must agree to practice academic honesty upon enrollment, students like West still admit to cheating.
One of the ways students cheat is by utilizing the array of technology they have access to. According to a recent poll by Common Sense Media, 35 percent of the students surveyed admitted to using a cell phone to cheat. Twenty percent said there was nothing wrong with texting friends about answers during a test.
Junior Jenna Jones* has witnessed firsthand her classmates using technology to cheat.
“If we have a test in a class, we are all desperate for information about how it was and what it covers,” Jones said. “Sometimes, right after people turn in a test, they’ll text [answers to students] in the other hours.”
Psychology teacher Kelli Kurle teaches both AP and IB students, yet still says that she witnesses students looking information up on their phones or sending test questions to students in other classes.
“[AP or IB] kids have a lot on their plate and I think they view [homework tasks] as only a worksheet,” Kurle said. “I saw almost no cheating when I was teaching standard level classes.”
According to the East Student Handbook, academic dishonesty “may result in, but is not limited to, loss of credit for the assignment.” Some teachers may choose to enforce punishment more than others, but West believes it doesn’t seem to be affecting the amount of cheating that takes place.
“I think people are so afraid of not getting that 4.0, not getting a perfect grade. They’ll cheat on a test and [choose to] not learn anything,” said West.
*Names have been changed to protect i