Science can catch you cheating – without you having to disclose it! How we shed light on the ambiguous field of dishonesty research

Academic dishonesty – you probably have encountered it in university. It does not only mean plagiarism or using cheat sheets; It can be lying to your professor that you could not meet a deadline “because of personal circumstances”, when actually these circumstances where that you procrastinated your way through social media all day. Or in times of CoViD, you might have turned an online “closed book exam” into an “open book exam”.

Wondering how research can find out about these behaviors without asking you directly? Here is how. The combination of three clever research paradigms enabled us to do so, the most important here being the so-called “cross-wise model”. This was developed by scientists in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and it works by asking participants about one sensitive cheating-related thing and a non-sensitive thing whose prevalence is known. The key point is that students answering these paired questions can be a 100% certain that nobody can know whether they meant to negate or confirm the sensitive or non-sensitive one. And this is true – but thanks to statistics, it was possible for us to establish the overall prevalence of cheaters in our sample. That is, we could find out whether students are dishonest without knowing who is and who isn’t. The means by which we know is that there are certainly not 90% people who have their birthdays in December – so they must have meant the sensitive question (for instance, ‘have you ever gotten exam question materials not authorized by university staff?’) when confirming one of the paired statements. This is exaggerated, but you get the idea.

Finally, we included a measure for the dark traits – you might be aware of these hostile personality traits. Using this measure made our research even more thrilling, as we were now able to see whether dishonest people are also likely psychopaths. Stay tuned for our results and be ready for the truth!

– Research Practical Group 22

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