When We Think Others Are Cheating

by Zoë Pollock

A couple of Dan Ariely's students tested the moral code of their fellow classmates by sending a link to test answers before an exam. Afterwards, Ariely asked them to cop (anonymously) to their own cheating and estimate how many others in the class cheated. He found they overestimated how much their classmates cheated:

Although it might sound like good news that fewer students cheat than they suspect, in fact such an overestimation of the tendency to cheat can become a very damaging social norm: when students think that their peers are cheating, they feel both that it is socially OK to cheat and feel pressured to cheat. A few students have even complained to me that they were penalised because they decided not to cheat. If cheating is perceived to be rampant, what are the chances that 2012's students will not adopt even more lenient moral standards and end up living up to their perceived cheating among their peers?