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What motivates academic dishonesty in students? A reinforcement sensitivity theory explanation

Bacon, A. M., McDaid, C., Williams, N. & Corr, P. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-7618-0058 (2019). What motivates academic dishonesty in students? A reinforcement sensitivity theory explanation. British Journal of Educational Psychology, doi: 10.1111/bjep.12269


BACKGROUND: Academic dishonesty (AD) is an increasing challenge for universities worldwide. The rise of the Internet has further increased opportunities for students to cheat.

AIMS: In this study, we investigate the role of personality traits defined within Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) as potential determinants of AD. RST defines behaviour as resulting from approach (Reward Interest/reactivity, goal-drive, and Impulsivity) and avoidance (behavioural inhibition and Fight-Flight-Freeze) motivations. We further consider the role of deep, surface, or achieving study motivations in mediating/moderating the relationship between personality and AD.

SAMPLE: A sample of UK undergraduates (N = 240).

METHOD: All participants completed the RST Personality Questionnaire, a short-form version of the study process questionnaire and a measure of engagement in AD, its perceived prevalence, and seriousness.

RESULTS: Results showed that RST traits account for additional variance in AD. Mediation analysis suggested that GDP predicted dishonesty indirectly via a surface study approach while the indirect effect via deep study processes suggested dishonesty was not likely. Likelihood of engagement in AD was positively associated with personality traits reflecting Impulsivity and Fight-Flight-Freeze behaviours. Surface study motivation moderated the Impulsivity effect and achieving motivation the FFFS effect such that cheating was even more likely when high levels of these processes were used.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that motivational personality traits defined within RST can explain variance in the likelihood of engaging in dishonest academic behaviours.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Bacon, A. M., McDaid, C., Williams, N. and Corr, P. J. (2019), What motivates academic dishonesty in students? A reinforcement sensitivity theory explanation. Br J Educ Psychol., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.
Publisher Keywords: Reinforcement sensitivity theory; academic dishonesty; cheating; student; deep learning; surface learning
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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