Harvard study: Cheating students are more likely to want to work for government

25 Nov

Cheating is increasingly a concern in education. Some colleges in an attempt to curb academic dishonesty on campus are beginning to employ methods one has usually associated with Las Vegas casinos. Minnesota State University Mankato has an excellent newsletter article about academic dishonesty. Richard C. Schimming writes in Academic Dishonesty:

A recent survey found that 1/3 of all students admitted to cheating on an examination, 1/2 admitted to cheating on a class assignment, 2/3 admitted to cheating at least once during their college career, and 2/3 have seen classmates cheat on exams or assignments. Paradoxically, 3/4 of those in that survey believe that cheating is not justified under any circumstances. Finally, 1/2 of the students surveyed believe that the faculty of their university do not try to catch cheaters…
http://www.mnsu.edu/cetl/teachingresources/articles/academicdishonesty.html

For some students, cheating starts early. By the time some kids reach college they have already established a pattern of cheating. ABC News has a good report, A Cheating Crisis in America’s Schools http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=132376&page=1 https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/cheating-in-schools-goes-high-tech/

Emily Alpert Reyes reported in the L.A. Times article, Cheating students more likely to want government jobs, study finds:

College students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania found in a study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India.
Their results, recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggest that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place.
For instance, “if people have the view that jobs in government are corrupt, people who are honest might not want to get into that system,” said Rema Hanna, an associate professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. To combat that problem, governments may need to find new ways to screen people seeking jobs, she said.
Researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. In one task, students had to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times.
Although researchers do not know for sure if any one student lied, they could tell whether the numbers each person reported were wildly different than what would turn up randomly — in other words, whether there were a suspiciously high number of 5s and 6s in their results.
Cheating seemed to be rampant: More than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, researchers found. Students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, the researchers found.
“Overall, we find that dishonest individuals — as measured by the dice task — prefer to enter government service,” wrote Hanna and coauthor Shing-yi Wang, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
They added, “Importantly, we show that cheating on this task is also predictive of fraudulent behaviors by real government officials.”
The same test, given to a smaller set of government nurses, showed that those who appear to have cheated with the dice were also more likely to skip work. Previous studies suggest that the bulk of such absenteeism is fraudulent, Hanna said.
Researchers also ran other tests to gauge character: In another experiment, students played a game in which they could send a message anonymously to another player, either telling them honestly what move would earn them more money, or dishonestly nudging them toward a worse choice. Tricking the other student would help them gain more money.
http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-cheating-students-government-jobs-corruption-20131118,0,2929974.story#ixzz2ldYrFkMY

Citation:

Dishonesty and Selection into Public Service
Rema Hanna, Shing-Yi Wang
NBER Working Paper No. 19649
Issued in November 2013
NBER Program(s): DEV
In this paper, we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service. Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption. Students who demonstrate lower levels of prosocial preferences in the laboratory games are also more likely to prefer to enter the government, while outcomes on explicit, two-player games to measure cheating and attitudinal measures of corruption do not systematically predict job preferences. We find that a screening process that chooses the highest ability applicants would not alter the average propensity for corruption among the applicant pool. Our findings imply that differential selection into government may contribute, in part, to corruption. They also emphasize that screening characteristics other than ability may be useful in reducing corruption, but caution that more explicit measures may offer little predictive power.
You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Theories about why students cheat range from character issues to mental issues.

Sora Song of Time.Com discusses the inevitable study in the article, Profiling Student Cheaters: Are the Psychopaths?

Psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that students who cheated in high school and college were likely to meet the criteria for psychopathic personality – the type that tends toward a range of bad behaviors, like alcohol and drug abuse, bullying and reckless driving. It’s the same impulsive, callous and antisocial personality that characterizes criminal psychopaths, though, to be fair, student cheaters scored a lot lower on psychopathy questionnaires than actual criminal offenders. (More on Time.com: Video: Giving Dropouts a Second Chance)
The researchers found that academic cheaters also scored high in two other personality traits: narcissism (people who suffer from grandiosity, self-centeredness and an outsized sense of entitlement) and Machiavellianism (cynical, amoral types who make it a habit to manipulate others). But of the three disordered personalities – together known colorfully as the Dark Triad – psychopathy was the only trait significantly associated with student cheating.
The new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, describes the results of a series of three studies involving nearly 600 college students. (Read a PDF of the paper here.) In each, the volunteers were asked to fill out anonymous personality questionnaires; some participants also took tests of intelligence. Personality questions included: “I like to be the center of attention” (i.e., I may be a narcissist), “It’s hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there” (Machiavellianism), and “I have attacked someone with the goal of hurting them” (psychopathy). http://healthland.time.com/2010/09/20/profiling-student-cheaters-are-they-psychopaths/

The conclusion of the study is that the only thing which can be done is to make it impossible for the psychopath to cheat since they obviously have no impulse control and an appeal to values doesn’t work. One of the frightening prospects highlighted by the article is that it is possible to screen for psychopathic traits in people, but it probably wouldn’t be ethical for schools to do so. So, like the chicken and the egg riddle, society is back at placing the emphasis on strong families, values, and a K-12 education which sets some perimeters. Certainly something to think about.

Shouldn’t those who work for the government be interested in public service instead of than self-service? Something else to think about.

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