Why Students Cheat: An Exploration of the Motivators of Student Academic Dishonesty in Higher Education

  • Mark Brimble
Reference work entry


It is difficult to remember any recent conversation about assessment or learning standards in higher education where academic dishonesty was not mentioned. Tension in relation to student behaviors in this regard appears to be growing as the perfect storm of commercialization, massification, disengagement, resource constraints, short termism, and increased (and ease of) opportunity converge to influence student (and faculty) behavior and attitudes. Add this to the rapidly evolving higher education landscape with a workforce that is often not trained in education, is increasingly casualized, and often deprioritizes teaching and learning relative to other academic pursuits, and the opportunity for academic dishonesty is obvious.

Within this context, this chapter examines the motivations of student academic dishonesty in higher education. Drawing on the empirical literature, seven groups of motivators are identified that illustrate a range of contextual, situational, and awareness/knowledge-based motivators.

It is concluded that while a range of factors motivate student behavior, the higher education landscape and academic culture are also key components. There are a range of strategies that may mitigate these activities (such as academic professional development, improved assessment design, student training, and technological advancements). It is argued that a dedicated medium-term approach is required to combat the rising tide and the changing higher education landscape.


Student Engagement Academic Staff Student Perception Student Behavior Academic Dishonesty 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Beasley, E. M. (2013). Students reported for cheating explain what they think would have stopped them. Ethics and Behaviour, 24(3), 229–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bernardi, R. A., Banzhoff, C. A., Martino, A. M., & Savasta, K. J. (2011). Challenges to academic integrity: Identifying the factors associated with the cheating chain. Accounting Education: An International Journal, 21(3), 247–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Black, E. W., Greaser, J. J., & Dawson, K. (2014). Academic dishonesty in traditional and online classrooms: Does the “media equation” hold true? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3–4), 23–30.Google Scholar
  4. Bretag, T., Mahmud, S., Wallace, M., Walker, R., McGowan, U., East, J., Green, M., Partridge, L., & James, C. (2014). ‘Teach us how to do it properly!’ An Australian academic integrity student survey. Studies in Higher Education, 39(7), 1150–1169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brimble, M. A., & Stevenson-Clarke, P. (2005). Perceptions and prevalence of academic dishonesty in Australian universities. Australian Educational Researcher, 32, 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brimble, M. A., & Stevenson-Clarke, P. (2006). Managing academic dishonesty in Australian universities: Implications for teaching, learning and scholarship. Accounting, Accountability and Performance, 12(1), 32–63.Google Scholar
  7. Cole, B. C., & Smith, D. (1995). Effects of ethics instruction on the ethical perceptions of college business students. Journal of Education for Business, 70(6), 351–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Coren, A. (2011). Turning a blind eye: Faculty who ignore student cheating. Journal of Academic Ethics, 9, 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. David, F., Anderson, L., & Lawrimore, K. (1990). Perspectives on business ethics in management education. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 9, 26–32.Google Scholar
  10. Devlin, M., & Gray, K. (2007). Examining the cheats: The role of conscientiousness and excitement seeking in academic dishonesty. South African Journal of Psychology, 37, 153–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Engler, J., Landau, J., & Epstein, M. (2008). Keeping up with the Joneses: Student perceptions of academically dishonest behaviour. Teaching of Psychology, 35(2), 98–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fask, A., Englander, F., & Wang, Z. (2014). Do online exams facilitate cheating? An experiment designed to separate possible cheating from the effect of the online test taking environment. Journal of Academic Ethics, 12, 101–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gerdeman, R. (2000). Academic dishonesty and the community college. Los Angels: ERIC Digest, ERIC Clearinghouse for Community Colleges.Google Scholar
  14. Graves, S. M., & Austin, S. F. (2008). Student cheating habits: A predictor of workplace deviance. Journal of Diversity Management, 3(1), 15–22.Google Scholar
  15. Gullifer, J. M., & Tyson, G. A. (2014). Who has read the policy on plagiarism? Unpacking students’ understanding of plagiarism. Studies in Higher Education, 39(7), 1202–1218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Haines, V., Diekhoff, G., LaBeff, E., & Clark, R. (1986). College cheating: Immaturity, lack of commitment and the neutralising attitude. Research in Higher Education, 25, 342–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Harkins, A., & Kubik, G. (2010). “Ethical” cheating in formal education. On the Horizon, 18(2), 138–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Higbee, J. L., Schultz, J. L., & Sanford, T. (2011). Student perspectives on behaviours that constitute cheating. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(10), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hosny, M., & Fatima, S. (2014). Attitude of students towards cheating and plagiarism: University case study. Journal of Applied Sciences, 14(8), 748–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Koh, H. P., Scully, G., & Woodliff, D. (2011). The impact of cumulative pressure on accounting students’ propensity to commit plagiarism: An experimental approach. Accounting and Finance, 51, 985–1005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kremmer, M. L., Brimble, M. A., & Stevenson-Clarke, P. (2007). Investigating the probability of student cheating: The relevance of student characteristics, assessment items, perceptions of prevalence and history of engagement. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 3(2), 3–17.Google Scholar
  22. Lawson, R. (2004). Is classroom cheating related to business students’ propensity to cheat in the ‘real world’? Journal of Business Ethics, 49(2), 189–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ma, H., Wan, G., & Lu, E. (2009). Digital cheating and plagiarizm in schools. Theory into Practice, 47, 197–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Marshall, S., & Garry, M. (2006). NESB and ESB students’ attitudes and perceptions of plagiarism. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2(1), 26–37.Google Scholar
  25. McCabe, D., & Bowers, W. (2009). The relationship between student cheating and college fraternity or sorority membership. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 46(4), 1123–1136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McCabe, D., & Trevino, L. (1993). Academic dishonesty, honour codes and other contextual factors. Journal of Higher Education, 64(5), 520–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McCabe, D., & Trevino, L. (1996). What we know about cheating. Change, 28(1), 28–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McCabe, D., Trevino, L., & Butterfield, K. (2001). Dishonesty in academic environments. Journal of Higher Education, 72(1), 29–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. McCabe, D., Trevino, L., & Butterfield, K. (2010). Cheating in academic institutions: A decade of research. Ethics and Behaviour, 11(3), 219–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Molnar, K., & Kletke, M. (2012). Does the type of cheating influence undergraduate students’ perceptions of cheating? Journal of Academic Ethics, 10, 201–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Molnar, K., Kletke, M., & Jenkel, I. (2009). Does the type of institution influence undergraduate students ethical opinions? Decision Sciences Institute, 2009, Proceedings, New Orleans.Google Scholar
  32. Murdock, T., Miller, A., & Goetzinger, A. (2007). Effects of classroom context on university students’ judgements about cheating: Mediating and moderating processes. Social Psychology of Education, 10, 141–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Nonis, S., & Swift, C. (2001). An examination of the relationship between academic dishonesty and workplace dishonesty: A multi-campus investigation. Journal of Education for Business, 77(2), 69–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Owunwanne, D., Rustagi, N., & Dada, R. (2010). Students’ perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in higher institutions. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 7(11), 59–68.Google Scholar
  35. Quah, C. H., Stewart, N., & Wee, J. (2012). Attitudes of business students’ toward plagiarism. Journal of Academic Ethics, 10, 185–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rettinger, D., & Kramer, Y. (2009). Situational and personal causes of student cheating. Research in Higher Education, 50, 293–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ruedy, N., Moore, C., Gino, F., & Schweitzer, M. (2013). The cheater’s high: The unexpected affective benefits of unethical behaviour. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(4), 531–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ryan, G., Bonanno, H., Kraa, I., Scouller, K., & Smith, L. (2009). Undergraduate and postgraduate pharmacy students’ perceptions of plagiarism and academic honesty. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 73(6), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Simon, C., Carr, J., McCullough, S., Morgan, S., Oleson, T., & Ressel, M. (2004). Gender, student perceptions, intuitional commitments and academic dishonesty: Who reports in academic dishonesty cases? Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 27, 72–90.Google Scholar
  40. Stevenson-Clarke, P., & Brimble, M. A. (2007). “Academic dishonesty in accounting students: Implications for educators, the accounting profession and the business community”. Chapter 21 in P. Gupta, R. K. Jain & J. Dhan (Eds.). Enterprise Competitiveness (pp. 228–244). New Delhi: Allied Publishers.Google Scholar
  41. Szabo, A., & Underwood, J. (2004). Cyber cheats: Is information and communication technology fuelling academic dishonesty? Active Learning in Higher Education, 5(2), 180–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tibbetts, S. (1999). Difference between women and men regarding decision to commit test cheating. Research in Higher Education, 40, 323–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Walker, M., & Townley, C. (2012). Contract cheating: A new challenge for academic honesty? Journal of Academic Ethics, 10, 27–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Whitley, B. (1998). Factors associated with cheating among college students. A review. Research in Higher Education, 39(3), 235–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Woessner, M. C. (2004). Beating the house: How inadequate penalties for cheating make plagiarism an excellent gamble. Political Science and Politics, April, pp. 313–320.Google Scholar
  46. Young, J. R. (2010). High-tech cheating abounds and professors bear some blame. The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Griffith Business SchoolGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations