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Study Underscores Long-Term Implications of Academic Cheating

By David Ogul

A new study led by Cal State San Marcos marketing professor Glen Brodowsky suggests business students who are more tolerant of cheating in the classroom are more likely to tolerate unethical corporate behavior in the board room.

Because of the implications, “Tolerance for Cheating From the Classroom to the Boardroom: A Study of Underlying Personal and Cultural Drivers,” urges university professors to be diligent about setting the tone early that cheating is not OK.

“Today’s business student becomes tomorrow’s business professional,” states the study published in the Journal of Marketing Education. “Therefore, business professors must be particularly concerned about honesty and ethics as their students will likely move on to corporate careers.”

Problem is, cheating has gone high tech.

“Students can cheat in all kinds of new ways because of technology that teachers have not even caught onto yet,” Brodowsky said in an interview.

And cheating is becoming more commonplace. A 2018 Swansea University study, for example, found a significant increase in cheating among college students worldwide.

Data for “Tolerance for Cheating From the Classroom to the Boardroom: A Study of Underlying Personal and Cultural Drivers” was collected from surveys completed by 249 students at CSUSM and San Francisco State University. Responses were evenly split between ethnically diverse, male and female students who ranged from 19 to 54 years old.

Attitudes toward academic cheating were measured using a 34-item checklist depicting a multitude of behaviors that might or might not be considered cheating, such as “cheating on college tests is morally wrong,” and “if a student is offered a copy of a stolen test, the offer should be refused.” Tolerance toward unethical behavior in business was measured using an 11-item checklist.

Brodowsky noted that tolerance for cheating can be influenced by cultural factors. For example those in “collectivist cultures” are more likely to follow group norms. On the flip side, cheating is less likely to be tolerated in individualist cultures, such as the United States, as students and business professionals may be more concerned with self than society.

“It’s a concern, especially in a global economy where you have people from different cultures where tolerance for cheating or definitions of unethical behavior may differ,” he said.

Another factor is the agency-communion construct, or whether a person is more focused on their individual accomplishments and what separates them from others (agency), or whether one is more focused on establishing an intimate relationship with others and society at large (communion). Those from collectivist cultures who are on the communion side of the scale are more apt to tolerate cheating, Brodowsky said, because they don’t want to rock the proverbial boat.

While prior studies have focused on cheating at a cultural or national level, this study concentrated on the individual.

Brodowsky emphasized the study is limited.

“We’re measuring attitudes, not behavior,” he said.

Nonetheless, attitudes often lead to action. What’s more, states the study, “professors are in a unique position to shape student attitudes toward cheating before it happens by changing students’ perceptions of consequences of cheating from positive to negative.”

The study was co-authored by San Francisco State University Professor of Marketing Foo-Nin Ho, CSUSM Assistant Professor of Management Emily Tarr and San Diego State University Professor of Marketing Don Sciglimpaglia.

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