Students who cheat do so because they are amoral psychopaths, according to a University of British Columbia study, published this week. The paper, authored by UBC psychology professor, Del Paulhus, concluded that “Students who cheat in high school and college are highly likely to fit the profile for subclinical psychopathy–a personality disorder defined by erratic lifestyle, manipulation, callousness and antisocial tendencies.” The paper appears in the Sept edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
Paulhus and his research team employed a combination of personality tests and surveys that asked students if they had cheated while in high school. A total of 249 second-year UBC psychology students participated in the study. Paulhus also analyzed two term papers from each of a 114 of the participating students by running them through an online plagiarism detection website. “College students who admitted to cheating in high school or turned in plagiarized papers ranked high on personality tests” for “psychopathy, Machiavellianism (cynicism, amorality, manipulativeness), and narcissism (arrogance and self-centeredness, with a strong sense of entitlement),” a press release from the American Psychological Association, read.
Students who exhibited traits of mental disorder did not view cheating as wrong, or were not concerned about being caught, and viewed it as “an appropriate strategy for reaching their ambitious goals.” Some of the students who participated in the study cheated because they were unprepared, but this was a much smaller group.
Paulhus warns universities that although the cheating students exhibited subclinical psychopathy, less extreme than criminal psychopathy, that attempting to reform “amoral” cheaters could be dangerous. Instead, the authors recommend using plagiarism detection software, banning cell phones, using multiple versions of tests, and other methods to identify cheating.