Science project

To Cheat or Not to Cheat

Research Questions

  • What will make children cheat?
  • How appealing is the reward to compel the child to cheat?
  • What is the role of stress?

The pressure to cheat is often driven by stress, the need to achieve, and even peer pressure. In 2008 approximately 64% of high school students admitted to cheating at least once on a test according to a survey by the Center for Youth Ethics at Josephson Institute in Los Angeles. A higher percentage of students admitted to cheating on homework assignments. These numbers are high. What students do not realize is the serious nature of cheating. Not only is cheating dishonest and unethical, it gives students a false sense of their capabilities and prevents them from learning. In academia and the literary world cheating is a death sentence. Plagiarism in these arenas can often result in expulsion, loss of tenure, and loss of credibility. In this experiment we will examine cheating in elementary school aged children. What factors push children to cheat and how can we correct this before it is too late?


  • You will need to perform this task in a room with a two-way mirror or a video camera.
  • Clock
  • Timer

Experimental Procedure

  1. Choose at least 10 children to participate.
  2. What age group do you want to analyze?
      1.   5-8 yr. olds
      2. 9-13 yr. olds  
  3. The situations: Interview the children individually. 
    1.  Children will be given a set of questions, with no apparent answers.
      1.  Guessing game - How many marbles are in a box? Put a known amount of marbles into a small box. Ask the child to guess how many marbles are in the box. They can shake it but they cannot look inside.
      2.  Flash cards - Use a question on a flash card with the answer on the back.
      3. Memory game - play a game of memory with the child.
    2. For each task you will ask or explain what the child must do and then tell them:
      1. There will be no reward
      2. There will be a small reward
      3. There will be a large reward
      4. That all of his/her classmates got the answer correct
      5. There is a very short time limit.
    3. Once all the information is given you must tell them you need to leave the room for 5 minutes. Be sure there is a clock present. For the short time limit test let the child know you will be back quickly.
  4. Two-Way Mirror Observation (If a two way mirror is unavailable you can use a video camera streaming real time to a computer/monitor outside of the testing room.
  5. Record your observations. Be sure to keep track of time using a timer.
  6. Re-enter the room and ask the child what the answer is. If you are playing the memory game proceed to play the game with the subject.
  7. Record your observations.
  8. Organize & evaluate your data.

Terms/Concepts: What constitutes cheating?; What are some factors involved in the decision to cheat?; Risk vs. Reward; Consequentialism and Deontology; Ethics


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