More than half of high school and college students cheat while in school (Bowers, 1964; Jordan, 2001; McCabe& Trevino, 1995). This is an increasing problem that many have researched, most notably McCabe and Trevino. They have performed multiple studies, along with others, to discover why students cheat and they have found that a large determinate is self-determination. Deci and Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory argues that it is the degree to which an individual sees him or herself as being autonomous and having a choice in actions and behaviors, without feeling pressured to behave in a particular manner. Self- determination theory believes there is a continuum of differing regulatory styles ranging from amotivation to completely intrinsic motivation. When students have a pure interest in an activity this is considered intrinsic motivation as where students who are extrinsically motivated are more concerned with approval from others or things such as grades (Schneider, Gruman, &Coutts, 2012). McCabe and Trevino (1995) and Jordan (2001) found students who are more extrinsically motivated are more likely to cheat versus students who are intrinsically motivated. When students are goal orientated such as by grades or the approval of others it decreases the students enjoyment in learning. Here lies the problem. Students who simply want a an A or approval from parents and teachers compared to those who want a deep understanding of the material are more likely to cheat because it is the goal they are more concerned with and not the knowledge behind it. Jordan (2001) found it key to transition extrinsic motivations to mastery motivation by teaching students to see the importance of not simply achieving good grades, but understanding the material is more important in reducing levels of cheating. This is where Jordan (2001) believes we need to focus if we want to decrease the amount of cheating that is occurring in our schools.
If we use self-determination theory as a bases in classrooms to help intervene with the problem of cheating one of the first steps would be to propose different approaches that teachers can take to help facilitate autonomy and self-regulated learning in students (Reeve, 2004; Reeve, Ryan, Deci, & Jang, 2008). For example teachers need to focus on mastery skills versus deadlines and completion of assignments (Schneider et al., 20012). They need to allow students to feel as if they have control over their assignments by allowing them to engage in more independent work. (Schneider et al., 2012). They also need to give praise for the work being worked on versus only on what is turned in (Schneider et al., 2012).
Encouraging intrinsic motivation and mastery of skills is not only important when it comes to cheating but to the students overall well-being and education. Students will remember more and feel better about school and what they do. If learning and studying is something they feel that they are doing simply for themselves versus being told to do so by society it increases their liking (Deci & Ryan, 1985). As Plato said so wisely, "Do not train children to learn by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds."
Bowers, W. J. (1964). Student dishonesty and its control in college. New York: Columbia University, Bureau of Applied Social Research.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination theory in
human behavior. New York: Plenum Press
Jordan, A. E. (2001). College student cheating: The role of motivation, perceived norms,
attitudes, and knowledge of institutional policy. Ethics & Behavior, 11(3), 233-247.
McCabe, D. L. and Trevino, L. K. (1995). Cheating among business students: a challenge
for business leaders and educators.Journal of Management Education. 19(2) 205-218. doi: 10.1177/105256299501900205
Reeve, J. (2004) Self-determination theory applied to educational settings . In E. L. Deci
& R. M Ryans (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 183-203). Rocherster, NY. University of Rochester Press.
Reeve, J., Ryan, R., Deci, E. L., & Jang, h. (2008). Understanding and promoting
autonomous self-regulation: A self- determinate theory perspective. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research, and applications (pp. 223-244). New York: Erlbaum.
Schneider, F. W., Coutts, L. M., and Gruman, J. A. (2012). Applied social psychology:
Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.