Using criminological theories to explain why college students cheat
Several researchers have attempted to use criminological theories to explain why college students cheat. Although research on academic cheating is not usually theoretically driven, the literature suggests that cheating is similar to other forms of deviant behavior. Like other forms of deviant behavior: cheating seeks a rewarding outcome, is accompanied by the risk of detection and punishment, is motivated by both external behaviors and personal desires to achieve, and it may be deterred by certain and severe sanctions. This being the case, criminological theories should be helpful in explaining college student cheating (Cite).
Deterrence theory argues that a particular behavior is inhibited or deterred in direct proportion to the perceived probability and severity of punishment expected for the behavior. Research on relating deterrence theory to cheating has been mixed. Some researches support the hypothesis that cheating varies inversely with the risk of detection (a component of deterrence theory) while others feel some cheating is simply not deterred by the threat of sanctions. Michaels and Miethe, in their study of 623 undergraduate students, found that the perceived probability and severity of punishment was negatively correlated with cheating (Cite).
Rational Choice Theory
Rational choice theorists address the perceived probabilities and magnitudes of both rewards and punishment. Deterrence theory omits this reward component. Michaels and Miethe found that cheating varied directly with the extent to which students’ perceived that the relative gains from cheating exceeded the costs of cheating (Cite).