A new study finds that students who are tolerant of cheating in the classroom may let that tolerance spill over into their careers later on, tolerating unethical behavior in the workplace.
“If [students] have this attitude while they’re in school — that it’s OK to cheat in school — that attitude unfortunately will carry over to the corporate boardroom,” said Foo Nin Ho, a professor at San Francisco State University and Chair of Marketing and co-author of the study.
The study tackled two questions: If students tolerate cheating in the classroom, will they also tolerate unethical behavior in their careers? And what’s shaping these attitudes?
The researchers also wanted to give educators insight into what’s happening in their classrooms so they can challenge — and possibly change — student beliefs about cheating.
To conduct the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 250 undergraduate marketing students from Cal State San Marcos and San Francisco State. Students were asked to respond to statements about cheating and ethics such as “It’s cheating to ask another student what was on the test” and “Within a business firm, the ends justify the means.” They were asked to choose a response along a scale that ranged from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
The survey found that students who were more tolerant of cheating in a classroom also demonstrated an openness to unethical behavior on the job.
The researchers then went a step further in an attempt to discover the underlying forces influencing these attitudes.
They modeled this part of the study on older studies about cheating and ethical behavior. One previous study about ethical decision-making identified two traits, individualism and collectivism, as the biggest cultural factors in determining how people resolve conflicts in a way that’s mutually beneficial. That led the researchers to measure whether being an individualist or a collectivist led students to be more or less tolerant of cheating.
The results revealed that group-oriented students, or collectivists, had a more laissez-faire attitude toward cheating than their more individualistic classmates. Collectivists want to maintain group cohesion, so they’re more likely to be OK with unethical behaviors, according to Brodowsky.
“To save face they might count on cheating to make sure they all do well,” he said. “They also won’t rat each other out because that will make people look bad.”
But Ho and Brodosky also point out that just being from a collectivist or individualistic culture doesn’t define who a student is.
“Just because a student is part of one culture doesn’t mean they’ll be more tolerant of cheating,” Ho said.
Their survey measured individual attitudes shaped in part by culture — an important distinction, they say.
Understanding the cultural forces at work could help professors develop culturally sensitive ways to minimize these unethical behaviors in their classrooms.
“As professors, we need to set the tone and say, ‘This is what’s not rewarded in the classroom’ and train students that following ethical behavior leads to better outcomes,” Brodowsky said. “So when they graduate and work for companies they will be better equipped to evaluate that situation.”
Source: San Francisco State University