Journal of Academic Ethics

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 49–69 | Cite as

Use of the Social Cognitive Theory to Frame University Students’ Perceptions of Cheating

  • Audrey J. Burnett
  • Theresa M. Enyeart Smith
  • Maria T. Wessel


The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the perceptions related to ethics and cheating among a representative sample of primarily female undergraduate students, compared to trends reported in the literature. Focus groups were organized to discuss nine scripted questions. Transcripts and audiotapes were analyzed and four main themes emerged: demographics of those who cheat, students’ perceptions of cheating, the role of technology in cheating, and consequences of cheating, including students’ attitudes and behaviors related to reporting cheating incidents. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) served as the theoretical framework to understand students’ varying perceptions of and justification for cheating, as well as the dynamics of honor code violations, via group discussion. Viewpoints on cheating were regularly discussed and contradictory views were identified related to frequency and justification for cheating. Utilizing the constant comparative method, students mentioned time limitations, and pressure from peers, parents, and professors as reasons to cheat. They also discussed pressures to achieve high grades for acceptance into graduate programs. Students were also reluctant to report their classmates for cheating incidents. Repeated and comprehensive education on ethical behavior is warranted.


Qualitative research Cheating Students Ethical code 



The authors do not have any potential, perceived or real, conflicts of interest. There was no study sponsor for this project or manuscript. All listed authors contributed to the first draft of the manuscript and no honorariums were provided.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Audrey J. Burnett
    • 1
  • Theresa M. Enyeart Smith
    • 1
  • Maria T. Wessel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Health SciencesJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

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