Dear Students: Cheating Is Disgusting

This post was inspired by the following Dan Ariely letter of advice:

Dear Dan,

Our neighborhood park has seen a surge in litter and trash. As chair of our neighborhood association, I was thinking of putting up signs, informing people about this issue and reminding them to please use the trash cans. Can you think of any other strategy that might help us combat the issue of excessive litter and trash? —Marcus

Dam’s response:

Informing park visitors about how many people litter may actually result in people littering even more. That is because highlighting any behavior, including negative behavior, can normalize it and achieve the opposite of your intention. This is exactly what research at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona found: Theft of petrified wood was higher when signs mentioned past visitor’s theft, instead of just expressing disapproval. With this in mind, instead of pointing to the scale of the undesirable behavior, choose a strongly worded message of disapproval, such as: “Litter in our park is disgusting.” You can make the sign more vivid, and trigger a more emotional response, by choosing a picture to go with the message—for instance, depicting a visitor littering, with a red “X” over his or her action.

If Dan is correct, the title of this post and the accompanying image will help to deter students from cheating.

Maybe I should put both on the front page of every test I give…

34 thoughts on “Dear Students: Cheating Is Disgusting

  1. Or “shameful” (I think sometimes kids think doing something “disgusting” is funny…so that might actually not be a deterrent )
    We (fearfully) obeyed the Honor Code in college because we were terrified of UVA’s single sanction and getting kicked out of school for even one infraction….but also “honor” is a positive thing & we wanted to have it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that an honor code can be a powerful incentive; I wish we had one that strong at our school. But even the military academies have had some cheating incidents, despite their strong honor code…


      1. Yes, very disappointing to see cheating at the USNA, My father (class of ’49) would have been upset…but his experience of being hazed by older classmen as a plebe, I think, revealed that good and bad coexist within the “elite” accepted into the military academies, as with elsewhere in society. Pressure (as Michelle Obama said about the Presidency/White House) reveals who you are… and some people don’t “crack” under the pressure so much as reveal and give into their worse selves. For some of us the idea that God is Always Watching is not always enough and we need the discipline of the Fear of Being Caught to help us do the right thing.
        Or as the bible puts it: Fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I guess that’s why we have courtroom witnesses swear on the Bible.

        and yes, I am sure the plebes at the USNA are no different than any group of average 18-year olds when it comes to character…


  2. I don’t know what the answer is but I have a hard time thinking that putting up signs reminding people to use trash cans will lead to more littering. Do more people go faster because they see speed limit signs?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. At the college level, I think students have already determined their own feelings about cheating. They have either gotten this far by doing it and find it acceptable behavior (although the successes must be more than a little hollow) or they are disgusted by the behavior as much as the rest of us. Not sure a sign or anything else will change their given perception. Having honor and integrity will serve them better in their career and life than any degree, but I am not sure you can say that in this situation without raising a few eyebrows.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, as always, for your thoughtful comments, Brad. I agree that by the time students get to college, most, if not all of them, have formed their views about cheating. That being said, hopefully, there are measures we can take as educators to try and minimize the likelihood of cheating taking place…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with brad that most adults have already put their approach to cheating in place, as in – is that a strategy they will use or not? I know that it is not uncommon for young children to continue to do something, or do the opposite of what you tel them not to do. ‘don’t touch that..’, ‘stop hitting your brother…etc.’.- some love to test the limits, while others don’t yet have strong impulse control. as for the adults, it’s more an ethical issue –

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The problem for me is that we see so much cheating by public figures that it becomes normalised behaviour. We don’t just need signs, we need better examples to follow.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I was surprised by Dan’s approach. I thought he was going to say to use a positively worded sign e.g. Thank you for keeping the park clean.
    I’m not sure how you’d phrase that on your tests. Perhaps Thank you for submiting your own work. 😂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. We have to remember how movies and TV shows depict this stuff. They tend to glamorize and romanticize these types of bahaviour. Or make if funny. They rarely show it as wrong. Just as behaviour that adds character. I don’t think any signs can battle that.


    1. great points. and that’s why part of what we are doing at our school is to try and change the entire culture surrounding cheating. Much harder than trying to put in technology controls that would be in place duringha test, but perjaps more effective

      Liked by 1 person

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