Academic Dishonesty research published

Most studies of academic dishonesty rely on self-report of behavior in actual academic settings or on observations of actual behavior in less realistic laboratory contexts. In their article that appears in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Ethics & Behavior, Emily Simpson ’11, and Karen Yu, Associate Professor of Psychology at Sewanee: The University of the South, introduce a novel approach for assessing academic dishonesty during completion of actual coursework.

Simpson and Yu used electronic records of computer activity to determine whether students accessed relevant on-line information during a series of on-line quizzes. They found that while such instances of academic dishonesty can be relatively rare even when online access is relatively easy and can be achieved with substantial privacy, even an institutional honor code and relatively low-stakes quizzes do not necessarily eliminate cheating.

“We did not know how much of this sort of cheating we would find,” said Yu, “so the results are interesting in that respect but perhaps even more so because they rely on objective electronic records of activity rather than on participants’ self-reports of their own behavior.” More speculatively, Simpson and Yu also offer the possibility that the decision to cheat or not to cheat may not be a conscious, deliberate one, and that some environments (e.g., institutions with strong commitments to academic integrity) may attract and develop individuals who do not even consider cheating as an option.

“Of course, this was a small-scale study conducted under fairly specific circumstances,” notes Yu, “so it remains for future studies to assess the generality of our findings and the factors contributing to them.  Irrespective of the generality, we show that it is possible to study academic dishonesty in a manner that allows more accurate assessment of behavior in an actual academic context. We believe this approach can be usefully adapted to investigate any of a wide range of research questions that might benefit from an objective record of online behavior.”

Emily Simpson received her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude with honors in Psychology and earned an evaluation of Distinction on her comprehensive examination. She was one of the first two students selected to participate in the Sewanee-At-Yale Directed Research Program during the spring semester of her senior year, after which she was invited to spend an additional year as a research associate at the Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine. Simpson is now a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Wake Forest University. The research described above is largely based on an independent study project that Simpson conducted during the fall semester of her senior year under the supervision of Yu.


Simpson, E. & Yu, K. (2012). Closer to the truth:  Electronic records of academic dishonesty in an actual classroom setting. Ethics & Behavior, 22, 400-408.

Journal abstract:

Studies of academic dishonesty typically rely on potentially inaccurate self-reports or on actual behavior during less realistic tasks.  Eliminating the drawbacks of such approaches, we assessed cheating during completion of actual coursework via electronic records of online behavior.  Thirty-six college students completed unproctored, online quizzes.  The majority of students responding to a follow-up questionnaire reported that they never considered consulting online sources during the quizzes.  Computer logs reveal that although some students accessed relevant online information during the quizzes, many did not:  6 instances over 72 quiz attempts are attributable to 3 or 4 individuals.  Although online environments may offer more opportunities for academic dishonesty, electronic records of online activity provide a valuable and objective means of detecting such dishonesty.