Cheating or Coping with Situational Constraints? How Contemplation and Construal Level Influence Perceptions of Academic Dishonesty and Cheating Behaviour
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The current program of research investigated factors that influence students’ perceptions of everyday moral violations, as well as their own inclinations to engage in immoral behaviours. In Experiment 1, I demonstrated that participants’ evaluations of a hypothetical student who contemplated plagiarizing an assignment depended on both the choice that was ultimately made and the length of time spent deliberating about it (cf., Tetlock et al., 2000). Specifically, when participants were informed that the student ultimately elected to refrain from cheating, the length of time that this individual spent considering the decision had no impact on their subsequent behavioural or character evaluations. However, when participants were informed that the student had succumbed to the temptation to cheat, they evaluated the individual more harshly if the decision to cheat had been made after a period of deliberation than if the decision had been made blithely, without any forethought. Experiment 2 extended this program of research by showing that stable and transient variations in construal level interact to influence participants’ perceptions of students who engage in acts of plagiarism. Specifically, participants with low levels of personal agency evaluated a hypothetical student who had plagiarized an assignment relatively charitably, regardless of how they were prompted to construe the situation. Furthermore, these participants felt a greater affinity for the student after being induced to construe the student’s actions in low-level terms. On the other hand, participants with high levels of personal agency who were induced to construe the student’s actions in high-level terms were less positive in their evaluations, and also felt less of an affinity for the student. Experiment 3 assessed the extent to which stable and transient variations in construal level interact to predict actual cheating behaviour during an evaluative task. The results of this investigation revealed that priming participants with low levels of personal agency to adopt high-level construals lessened the incidence of cheating among members of this group. In sum, the results associated with the current program of research suggest that transient shifts in construal level interact with stable levels of personal agency to influence students’ perceptions of peers who engage in academic dishonesty. Furthermore, they provide evidence that these two factors play a role in the extent to which students behave dishonestly in evaluative settings themselves. Potential applications that could be derived from the current findings and possible avenues for future research are discussed.