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SMITH, S.L. (1998). At What Age Do Children Start Cheating?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved December 9, 2023 .

At What Age Do Children Start Cheating?

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
Cheating has become a problem in our schools, according to the literature. At what age do children start recognizing that cheating is just that; cheating? This study is looking to discover at what age cheating begins and what children consider cheating to be; having others do their work, copying other student`s work or the aspect of not getting caught. The participants are first through sixth grade students in the St. Joseph Public School District. The students answered yes/no questions dealing with cheating on a game, saying someone else`s work is their own, copying an answer from someone else`s exam, honesty to authority, stealing, and not getting caught. The students were asked to raise their hands in response to yes, it is ok or no, it is not ok. From the data collected, I hope to find when cheating begins which could be beneficial in looking at ways to prevent this behavior.

Cheating has become a problem in academia. According to Evans, Craig, and Mietzel (1993), concern about academic cheating has been persistently expresses in acholarly and mass media for several decades. Accounts of rampant cheating in elite secondary schools and elementary schools rated as outstanding have recently surfaced, with indications that some teachers and administrators may themselves be implicated in dishonest practices (p. 863). Cheating in the classroom includes many behaviors: using crib notes on an exam, copying answers from another student`s paper, letting others copy a homework paper, plagiarizing, and ghostwriting, to name just a few (Bushway and Nash, 1977). Zastro (1970) provided evidence of a 40% incidence of cheating among graduate students. In a study by Schab (1969), approximately 24% of the girls and 20% of the boys admitted that they first began cheating in the first grade, 17% of the girls and 15% of the boys began cheating in the eighth grade, and 13% of the girls and 9% of the boys began in the seventh grade. Bushway and Nash (1977) say that in response to this problem, a great deal of research has been performed in education and psychology. Most studies deal with (a) characteristics of cheaters, (b) the situational factors involved in a student`s decision about whether or not to cheat, and (c) reasons students often give for cheating. Several investigators have worked with the relationship between either intelligence or school achievement and cheating. The majority of studies indicate that students who are lower in intelligence or school achievement may cheat more frequently (Bushway and Nash, 1977). Vitro (1971) found that cheaters generally had parents who punished them severely or not at all. His results suggest that a moderate degree of discipline results in children who internalize moral values and are more honest in their school work. Hetherington and Feldman (1964) found cheating more common among students who were less self-sufficient and who exerted little effort in their studies. As for situational factors, several investigators have determined that particular characteristics of a situation have a great influence on whether or not a student cheats. The moral climate of the school also influences the amount of cheating. Bushway and Nash (1977) say that the moral tone of the school can have a positive effect on the characters of students as well as on the incidence of cheating in the school and that a good emotional tone in the classroom and instruction about not cheating before taking a test and great difficulty in cheating led to less cheating. Bushway and Nash (1977) go on to say that the chances of success of cheating were another situational determinant that some researchers deal with. The literature seems to indicate that students are less likely to cheat if the chances are greater that they may get caught. Personality and teaching style of the teacher or prefessor were found to be other situational determinants. Some of the reasons for cheating are concern about grades. This is the most mentioned. Cornehlsen`s (1965) results showed that any kind of pressure from administrators, teachers and/or parents frequently influenced cheating. Some of the correlates of cheating include alienation (Calabrese and Cochran, 1990), immaturity, and a lack of commitment to education (Haines, Diekhoff, LaBeff, and Clark, 1986). Consistent with this is the finding that cheating is positively correlated with an orientation toward grades whereas an orientation toward learning is negatively correlated with cheating (Huss, Curnyn, Roberts, Davis, Yandell, and Giordano, 1993; Weiss, Gilbert, Giorgano, and Davis, 1993). To date, most studies have involved American college students and have been marked by questions about faculty views on student cheating (Bouer, 1989), the personality characteristics of the cheaters (Haines, Diekoff, LaBeff, and Clark, 1986), situational factors in cheating (Houston, 1986), and programs to increase academic integrity (Aaron, 1992). Less attention had been given to the younger students. At what age do children start recognizing that cheating is just that; cheating? Some schools now have cooperative learning. Only recently have the potential values of cooperative learning been revived in American educational practices (Bossert, 1988-1989), and much remains to be learned about how these values may relate to academic integrity. I hope to learn from this study at what age children realize that cheating is cheating and what children consider to be cheating; is it having someone do your work or is it the aspect of not getting caught?


Students in the first through sixth grades from two schools in the St. Joseph, MO Public School District; Lake Contrary Accelerated School and Hyde Accelerated School, took part in this study. Overall, there were 614 participants: 114 first graders, 101 second graders, 109 third graders, 107 fourth graders, 95 fifth graders, and 88 sixth graders.

A survey was constructed and used that contained six simple yes or no questions dealing with honesty, cheating, stealing, and not getting caught (See appendix). A Monopoly gameboard was used for demonstrating question one.

I went into each classroom and asked the students as a group the six questions. There was one test for all grade levels. The students were asked these questions while their heads were down on their desks, not looking at other students so they would not be influenced by other`s responses. The students were asked to raise their hands in response to whether they thought, yes, the behavior was ok or no, the behavior was not ok.

A ChiSquare test of independence was calculated by hand, comparing the yes, it is ok response to the no, it is not ok response. A significant interaction was found (ChiSquare (5)=201.96, p.<.05). This showed a clear difference that first graders were less likely to see the behaviors as cheating than fourth and fifth grade students (See graph).

This study was designed to see at what age children see behaviors as cheating. My results showed a clear difference that first grade students were less likely to see the behaviors as cheating when compared to the fourth and fifth grade students. As the child gets older, into the second and third grades, they see the behaviors more as cheating (See graph). Most studies have dealt with older students, those attending high school and, in particular, those attending college. A lot of college students admitted to having cheated in grade school, starting as young as first grade (Schab, 1969). In this study, 15% of the first graders said these cheating and lying behaviors were ok. This indicates to me that academic dishonesty should be addressed in these earlier grades and reinforced through the academic career. I did not look at the consequences of these behaviors in this study, but I think it would be something to look at in future studies to aid in deterring cheating behaviors and other forms of academic dishonesty. One theme some of the questions referred to was the aspect of not getting caught. In one of the sixth grade classrooms, the teacher observed the students when answering question one. He stated that he did not want to intimidate the students in answering the rest of the survey, so he turned his back. When the students perceived he was not watching them, they responded that the behaviors in the survey were ok. Their answers seemed to indicate that cheating was ok in unobservable situations. Cooperative learning is used in both of the schools used in this study but did not seem to have an influence on the students answers to this survey. I concluded that most of the students in the upper grades have a clear indication of what cheating is and that it is not an ok behavior. It would be beneficial to study cooperative learning and academic dishonesty in the future to see if there is an interaction.

Aaron,R.M. (1992). Student academic dishonesty: Are collegiate institutions addressing the issue? NASPA, Journal, 29, 107-113. Bossert, S.T. (1988-1989). Cooperative activities in the classroom. In E.Z. Rothkopf (ed.), Review of research in education (pp. 225-250). Washington DC: American Educational Research Association. Boyer, E.L. (Ed.). (1989). The condition of the professoriate: Attitudes and trends, Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Bushway, A., & Nash, W. (1977). School cheating behavior. Review of Education Research, 47, 623-632. Calabrese, R.L., & Cochran, J.T. (1990). The relationship of alientation to cheating among a sample of American adolescents. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 23(2), 66-72. Cornehlsen, V.H. (1965). Cheating practices in a suburban high school. Journal of the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors, 28, 106-109. Evans, E.D., Craig, D., & Mietzel, G. (1993). Adolescents` cognitions and attributions for academic cheating: A cross-national study. Journal of Psychology, 127, 585-602. Haines, V.I., Diekhoff, C.M., LaBeff, E.E., & Clark, R.E. (1986). College cheating: Immaturity, lack of commitment, and the neutralizing attitude. Research in Higher Education, 25, 342-354. Hetherington, E.M., & Feldman, S.E. (1964). College cheating as a function of subject and situational variables. Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 212-218. Houston, J.P. (1986). Survey corroboration of experimental findings on classroom cheating behavior. College Student Journal, 20, 168-173. Huss, M.T., Curnyn, J.P., Roberts, S.L., Davis, S.F., Yandell, L., & Giordano, P. (1993). Hard driven but not dishonest: Cheating and the Type A personality. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 31, 429-430. Schab, F. (1969). Cheating in high school: Differences between the sexes. Journal of the National Association of Women Deans and Counselors, 33, 39-42. Vitro, F.T. (1971). The relationship of classroom dishonesty to perceived parental discipline. Journal of College Student Personnel, 12, 427-429. Weiss, J., Gilbert, K., Giordano, P., & Davis, S.F. (1993). Academic dishonesty, Type A behavior and classroom orientation. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 31, 101-102. Zastro, C.H. (1970). Cheating among college students. Journal of Educational Research, 64, 157-160.

1. If we are playing Monopoly and I roll this number____. I land _____ but if I land there, I have to pay somebody money so is it ok if I just go ahead one more space?

2. You are asked to draw a picture in Art class. The teacher wants you to draw a picture of a cat but you are not very good at it. You ask your friend to draw it for you. The Art teacher thinks you drew the picture and gives you a good grade. Is that ok?

3. You are out on the playground and see a toy like a hot wheel, beanie baby, or a pair of sunglasses that someone left outside. No one is going to see you pick up this toy, so you get it and take it home with you. Is that ok?

4. Your mom and dad see that you have a new toy and they know they didn`t buy it for you. They ask you where you got it. You tell them a friend gave it to you, you don`t tell them you found it on the way home and just picked it up. Is that ok?

5. You are taking a test in spelling. You don`t know how to spell a word. The person sitting next to you has the answer. The teacher is not looking at you so you look at the other person`s paper and write the word. Is that ok?

6. The teacher sees you talking in class. She sends you to the Principal`s office. You tell him that you weren`t talking, you were just listening but actually you were talking. Is that ok?


Submitted 12/2/98 8:51:46 AM
Last Edited 12/3/98 1:41:39 PM
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