Income Inequality and Distrust Foster Academic Dishonesty
By Lucy Hyde
College professors and students are in an arms race over cheating. Students find new sources for pre-written term papers; professors find new ways to check the texts they get for plagiarized material. But why are all these young people cheating? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests one reason: income inequality, which decreases the general trust people have toward each other.
Lukas Neville, a doctoral student at Queen’s University in Ontario, was inspired to do the study by his own teaching experience. “I ran into the question of academic dishonesty firsthand,” he says. Like other instructors at universities across North America, he considered using services that automatically check students’ papers for plagiarized material. “But it got me thinking about the actual underlying mechanism that promotes or inhibits academic dishonesty.” He thought the answer might be trust; if students don’t trust each other, some of them might think they have to cheat to keep up with their unscrupulous classmates. And other research has shown that this kind of distrust is more likely to be found in places with high income inequality.