In four experiments, researchers allowed two groups of students to take a math IQ test, with one group given the answers. Both groups were then asked to predict their scores on a second test. The group of "cheaters" predicted they would score higher on the second test than the control group.
The study, called "Temporal view of the costs and benefits of self-deception," found that "those who exploit opportunities to cheat on tests are likely to engage in self-deception, inferring that their elevated performance is a sign of intelligence."
[Learn how researchers are trying to curb high school cheating.]
But she said the results are disturbing. "It gives students a false idea of their own competencies," she says. "It's important for them to know their strengths and weaknesses. If a student is cheating in engineering and thinks they can be a great engineer, they're going to have problems down the line."
Studies consistently show that cheating in high school is prevalent, if not rampant. A 2010 survey by the Josephson Institute asked 40,000 students at public and private high schools nationwide if they had ever cheated. A third of high schoolers had cut and pasted portions of an Internet article for an assignment, nearly 60 percent had cheated on a test at school, and 80 percent had copied homework from a classmate.
Fishman says the Internet has given students more sources to cheat from, but that the prevalence and methods of cheating remain largely unchanged over the past few decades. Instead of cheating off a classmate or neighbor, students can find entire papers online. Websites like turnitin.com check students' papers against a database of online articles to detect plagiarism, but cheaters are just getting more sophisticated.
"It's kind of a technological arms race," Fishman says. "Students learn to cheat in specific ways, and then we learn to catch them in more specific ways."
Fishman's organization educates high school and college administrators, teachers, and professors about ways to talk to their students about cheating. Many students don't realize that quoting authoritative sources in a paper is encouraged, as long as credit is given.