The Good Cheat: Benevolence and the Justification of Collective Cheating

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“Sharing is caring” the old adage goes, with its implied message that both are morally desirable. But what if it’s test answers that students are sharing with their friends? Integrating values, cheating, and in-group bias theory, we hypothesize that adherence to group-loyalty benevolence values—considered as some of the most moral values—positively predicts the acceptance of collective cheating, that is students cheating together with in-group peers, when competition is salient. Operationalizing competition in three different ways we test this in four studies. In Study 1, adherence to benevolence values predicted positive attitudes toward collective but not individual cheating among students presented (vs. not) with a portrayal of society as competitive. Study 2 revealed that, within the competitive context of an end-of-year exam, adherence to benevolence values positively predicted moral disengagement toward collective cheating but negatively predicted individual cheating. Study 3 showed that valuing both being a dependable friend and attaining power and influence, predicted the acceptance of collective cheating. Finally, in Study 4, carried out with dyads of students, groups composed of students who knew each other cheated more than students composed of strangers. Furthermore, dyad adherence to power values positively predicted cheating behavior among dyads that knew (vs. did not know) each other. These results signal that group loyalty can, in certain conditions, lead to justifying and engaging in collective cheating, and that the motivational underpinnings may be the moral status of benevolence values.

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