Most students have cheated at least once during their school career, a constant trend over time and happening worldwide. Studies that have examined the phenomenon also corroborate that cheating peaks in high school. Two French sociologists who have studied the issue have shown that people do not cheat for the same reasons in elementary, high school and university. Here are the main reasons people cheat at these different stages of their school career.
Elementary. The main reasons for cheating are fear of being punished, rejected by peers, or humiliated by the teacher.
High school. Students are more likely to cheat in subjects they consider less important to devote their energy to those that matter more. Other factors that may increase the risk of cheating among high school students include: viewing the act as a trivial behaviour (Jensen et al., 2002), having an adversarial relationship with one’s parents, and fearing unfavourable comparison with other students (Bong, 2008).
University. The quest for a better grade is the primary motivation for both struggling and more successful students; the secondary motivation being a lack of work done to be able to succeed (Guibert & Michaut, 2012). Female students reportedly cheat much less than their male peers, a disparity also noted in the science community. A European study of university students found that the more they embraced neoliberal values — ambition to succeed, the pursuit of power, etc. — the more likely they were to see cheating as acceptable.
Are our times more conducive to cheating? The question is whether the values of our time, so prevalent in our educational system, are a fertile breeding ground for cheating. Although we live in a society of rights and moral ideals, our hyper valuation of performance, competition and success causes all sorts of discomforts inextricably linked to this fear of losing: pressure, anxiety, lack of self-confidence, to name a few.