Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 173–183 | Cite as

Cheating and Moral Judgment in the College Classroom: A Natural Experiment

  • Tim West
  • Sue Ravenscroft
  • Charles Shrader


The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a natural experiment involving academic cheating by university students. We explore the relationship of moral judgment (as measured using the defining issues test) to actual behavior, as well as the relationship between the honesty of students self-reports and the extent of cheating. We were able to determine the extent to which students actually cheated on the take-home portion of an accounting exam. The take-home problem was not assigned with the intent of inducing cheating among students. However, the high rate of observed cheating prompted the instructor to return to class and ask the students to provide information on their motivation. The students' responses are the data analyzed in this natural experiment. We found that in a simple regression the relationship between moral judgment scores and cheating behavior was insignificant. However, when we tested whether including Utilizer scores (i.e. the extent to which people select actions based on notions of justice) affected the relationship of cheating and moral judgment we found that Utilizer affected the relationship significantly. Finally, we found that moral judgment and honesty were not related, but higher levels of cheating behavior related to less honesty.

Accounting students Cheating Defining issues test Ethics Honesty Moral judgment 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim West
    • 1
  • Sue Ravenscroft
    • 2
  • Charles Shrader
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AccountingUniversity of ArkansasU.S.A
  2. 2.Iowa State UniversityIAU.S.A

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