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Why Smart Kids Cheat

Research Explores Why "Smart Students" Cheat

Why Smart Kids Cheat

The research helps us to understand cheating, especially among those students who appear too intelligent for it. The research reveals some surprising findings about one of the underlying causes.

While I was a graduate student, I worked as an assistant to various professors within the department. This job entailed the usual responsibilities–grading papers, helping students with assignments, and preventing cheating. Why do students cheat?

In one particular semester, I worked as an assistant to a senior member of the faculty for a class on child development. The majority of students in that particular semester were sophomores, and they were not familiar with the academic journal articles they were required to read and analyse.

Why Smart Kids Cheat
Why Smart Kids Cheat

As I guided the discussion in class, I was able to notice this particular student. She appeared to have read the articles, and she was eager to join in on the discussion. It was nice to have her in the class. I had previously encountered students who were apathetic and didn’t read any of the material.

When I sat to grade the first batch of student essays, I wasn’t surprised to see that her essay was among the best written. These students were not able to analyze and interpret scholarly research. Many of them were completely lost. She seemed to understand the assignment, though.

The next time I was given a similar assignment, I saw again that the paper was written well. When I looked closer, I noticed that parts of the text were familiar. I went back and compared our journal articles. I realized that she had copied whole paragraphs from the journal text. It’s no wonder I thought the article was well-written. The article she plagiarized had been written by her professor!

Why do students cheat?

I continued to work as an assistant teacher for several years and caught more instances of plagiarism. It’s not necessary to have cheating students in college for you to question the future of our country. I was moved by the story of this particular student.

Why would a student who seemed to be so intelligent and involved cheat? She appeared to be a strong student and was reading portions of the text; why would she cheat?

Recent studies on young children may be able to help us better understand this situation and the behaviour of children in general.

This study examined how praise might affect whether kids cheat. It’s not something we think about often, but we sometimes praise children for their Intelligence or their effort in completing a task.

Researchers have found that children who receive praise for their intelligence are more likely than those who are praised based on performance to cheat in a subsequent task.

A Study on Praise and Cheating

Students Passing Cheat Notes in Class
Students Passing Cheat Notes in Class

The answer to the question ” Why do students cheat?” may be more complex than we thought. The difference between praising efforts and praising intelligence is that the former creates a mindset that effort can be changed, so it is more likely to happen. This distinction is called a “fixed mindset” and a ” Growth Mindset”.

Many studies have already looked at the differences between fixed mindsets and cheating. It seems that children who believe they are “smart”, feel that they have reputations to maintain and are therefore more likely to cheat. Kids who are praised for their efforts understand that it is their hard work that produces good grades or high scores and do not feel the same pressure to keep up a reputation as intelligent.

Was the girl who was in my class being praised for her “intelligence” too much? We will never know, but we do wonder if she felt the pressure of having to appear “smart”, in a new environment where expectations were higher. It seems that, no matter how smart we think our kids are, it is better to praise their hard work than their intelligence.

Resources and Tips for Promoting Growth Mindsets:

Positive self-talk is important for younger children.

  1. You can use language or mantras to help them replace negative self-talk with positive ones. We say in our home, “Everything requires practice.” Another option is to focus on the word, “yet.” For example, “I still haven’t learned this skill.”
  2. Discuss with older children the famous failures that had to persevere over and over until they became successful- Steve Jobs. Albert Einstein. Thomas Edison. This is a list of goods.
  3. Use examples from in your life. You may have had a moment when you were sure you would never succeed in something, but you persisted. Remember a time when your hard work paid off. These stories will be loved by your children and can also serve as a great way to bond.

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