Tattletales: a Study on Conformity and Bystander Intervention in Cheating
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
LYDAY, R. L. (2005). Tattletales: a Study on Conformity and Bystander Intervention in Cheating. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 8. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Tattletales: a Study on Conformity and Bystander Intervention in Cheating
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
When in a group situation, individuals are likely to conform and unlikely to intervene. A study was done to see whether individuals would tell an experimenter about a cheater. A confederate was placed in a group of people taking a difficult IQ test. He cheated on the test and the reactions of the individuals were noted. The independent variables were the sex of the participant and whether or not he or she knew the experimenter. The hypothesis was that females that knew the experimenter would be most likely to inform her of the cheating. The results showed that females most often informed the researcher of the cheating, although whether the participant knew the researcher was not significant, nor was the interaction between the two.

Conformity is when a person’s behavior adheres to social norms (Asch, 1955, as cited in Hock, 2002). It is changing one’s behavior to match other’s responses (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). Asch (1955, as cited in Hock, 2002) did a study on conformity in individuals and found that people were very likely to conform with a group of complete strangers, even when the group was wrong. Conformity is stronger the more one is attracted and committed to a group.Social norms are strong determining factors of behavior (Chekroun & Brauer, 2002). Individuals will often conform to a group. If a person deviates, social control sets in. Social control is communication showing an individual that his or her behavior is deviate and that the group disapproves of it. In studies done by Chekroun and Brauer (2002) it was found that though many disapprove of deviate behavior they will not always act on it. This is because it takes more risks to exert social control than it does to help an individual in need, even though they are both actions relating to bystander intervention. Helping another is a positive act, whereas social control is negative and requires negative communication.Diffusion of responsibility is the idea that as the number of bystanders in a given situation rises, the belief is greater that someone else will do something and “I” am no longer responsible (Darley & Latane, 1968, as cited in Hock, 2002). Darley and Latane took college students that believed they were there for a study on adjusting to college. During the study they faked a seizure for one of the participants and observed how the real subjects acted. The more bystanders the subject believed there were, the less likely he or she was to do anything. In each of these studies, individuals conformed to the group. They also found it was not their place to speak up, whether it was in offering their (correct) answer, admonishing inappropriate behavior, or finding help for the person in trouble. In this study I looked at how likely someone was to either cheat (conformity) or inform the experimenter of the cheating (diffusion of responsibility and social control).The purpose of this study was to see how different people reacted to a cheater and how it affected them depending on their sex and whether or not they knew the experimenter.


The participants in this study were students from a Northwest Missouri college. They were taken from general and intermediate psychology courses. There were also others present that were asked to participate in order to have participants that knew the experimenter. There were 36 participants total.

A difficult test of IQ questions was taken from www.puzz.com. The test also contained demographics of the individuals. A sample of this test is in the Appendix.

Participants took a frustratingly difficult test. A confederate got up during the test and cheated. The participants were watched behind a one-way mirror to catch their various responses. Before the test it was made clear (but not obvious) that the answers were at the front of the room. After the test was completed the participants were asked to write any comments they had on the back of the test and turn it in. The importance of the study was stressed, as was how it would greatly affect the experimenter’s grade in the class. The point was to see which participants were more likely to inform the experimenter about the cheater. The independent variables were the sex of the participant and whether the participant knew the researcher.

A 2 (sex) x 2 (knowledge of the experimenter) between subjects factorial ANOVA was calculated comparing the sex of the participants and whether or not they knew the researcher to if they informed her of the cheating. The main effect for sex was significant (F(1,32)=4.034, p=.053). Females were most likely to inform the experimenter of the cheating. The main effect for knowing the experimenter was not significant (F(1,32)=1.452, p=.237). There was not a significant interaction (F(1,32)=1.452, p=.237). See Figure 1 for a representation of this relationship.

The results of this study did not support the hypothesis. The hypothesis was that females that knew the experimenter would be most likely to inform the experimenter of the cheating. Females were most likely to tell, but whether they knew the researcher was insignificant.The data supported the study done by Chekroun and Brauer that showed that while many disapprove of deviate behavior, they do not always act on it. Few participants informed the experimenter of the cheating. Studies on bystander intervention are also consistent with the study. In groups of people individuals are unlikely to intervene.There were many limitations in this study. The sample size should have been larger, and the numbers should have been even between the groups. The participants should have been chosen more randomly. Many of the participants that knew the researcher were in the Honors Program, and that may have affected the results. The room used had a one-way mirror, and that made a few of the participants suspicious and nervous. This study cannot be generalized to the public, because the sample was taken only from college students, which covers a limited age range. Many of the participants were psychology students, which could have an affect as well. For future research, I would recommend varying the ages of the participants to observe the difference that age makes in academic honesty. Varying the characteristics of the cheater would also be interesting to observe.

Chekroun, P., & Brauer, M. (2002). The bystander effect and social control behavior: The effect of the presence of others on people’s reactions to norm violations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 32, 853-868.Cialdini, R. B., & Goldstein, N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621.Hock, R. R. (2002). Forty Studies That Changed Psychology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Appendixes and Figures

Submitted 4/28/2005 1:35:47 PM
Last Edited 4/29/2005 9:41:18 AM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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