Does a cultural emphasis on gaining wealth and achieving success promote unethical behavior in higher education?
According to research published September 20 in Psychological Science, there is a relationship between the values associated with neoliberal, free-market capitalism and cheating.
Swiss researchers Caroline Pulfrey and Fabrizio Butera found adherence to the individualistic self-enhancement values underlying the ideology of neoliberal capitalism predicted the condoning of cheating as well as actual cheating behavior in an academic setting.
“The six studies presented in this article concur to show that neoliberal values of power and achievement are related to students’ condoning of cheating and actual cheating behavior,” Butera, a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Lausanne, told PsyPost. “The main contribution of this research is that it counters the widespread belief that cheating is a form of individual deviancy that should be dealt with by increasing social control and individual punishment.”
In three preliminary studies, Pulfrey and Butera found the more students desired personal success and desired to outperform other students, the more they condoned cheating. This first set of preliminary research included more than 1500 participants.
The researchers recruited another 972 participants for two more survey-based studies to confirm their findings. In addition, they recruited another 130 participants for a classroom-based experiment to show that adherence to neoliberal self-enhancement values significantly predicted not just the condoning of cheating, but actual cheating.
“Our data show that cheating is also related to the cultural environment in which the students are embedded: in our Western capitalistic countries, adherence to values that promote personal success and striving for material rewards creates a motivation to study merely aimed at obtaining social approval, which in turn creates goals directed to outperforming others, which then justifies acceptance of cheating,” Butera told PsyPost
“The bad news is that cultural values are pervasive and their influence on cheating behaviors can be massive,” he added. “The good news is that this influence can be countered by transmitting different values, based on cooperation and mutual respect, as shown by one of our studies.”
In particular, the researchers found that exposure to self-transcendence values reduced the acceptance of cheating as a means to succeed. Those who read an excerpt from a lecture ostensibly given by a Nobel-prize winner that emphasized things like helping others, being honest, and working for social justice were less likely to accept cheating than those who read an almost identical lecture that emphasized achievement, ambition, and wealth.
“Understanding more about the life goals that induce cheating and the contextual influences that enhance or suppress this tendency is undeniably useful at a time when scandals in academia, business, and politics are regular events,” Pulfrey and Butera concluded in their study.