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Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism

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  • Thomas S. Dee
  • Brian A. Jacob

Abstract

Despite the concern that student plagiarism has become increasingly common, there is relatively little objective data on the prevalence or determinants of this illicit behavior. This study presents the results of a natural field experiment designed to address these questions. Over 1,200 papers were collected from the students in undergraduate courses at a selective post-secondary institution. Students in half of the participating courses were randomly assigned to a requirement that they complete an anti-plagiarism tutorial before submitting their papers. We found that assignment to the treatment group substantially reduced the likelihood of plagiarism, particularly among student with lower SAT scores who had the highest rates of plagiarism. A follow-up survey of participating students suggests that the intervention reduced plagiarism by increasing student knowledge rather than by increasing the perceived probabilities of detection and punishment. These results are consistent with a model of student behavior in which the decision to plagiarize reflects both a poor understanding of academic integrity and the perception that the probabilities of detection and severe punishment are low.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas S. Dee & Brian A. Jacob, 2010. "Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism," NBER Working Papers 15672, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15672
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    1. A. Colin Cameron & Jonah B. Gelbach & Douglas L. Miller, 2008. "Bootstrap-Based Improvements for Inference with Clustered Errors," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 90(3), pages 414-427, August.
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    6. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-In-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:ecoedu:v:64:y:2018:i:c:p:313-342 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Damgaard, Mette Trier & Nielsen, Helena Skyt, 2018. "Nudging in education," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 313-342.
    3. Claudio Lucifora & Marco Tonello, 2016. "Monitoring and sanctioning cheating at school: What works? Evidence from a national evaluation program," DISCE - Working Papers del Dipartimento di Economia e Finanza def051, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Dipartimenti e Istituti di Scienze Economiche (DISCE).
    4. Mansour, Hani & Rees, Daniel I., 2011. "The Effect of Prenatal Stress on Birth Weight: Evidence from the al-Aqsa Intifada," IZA Discussion Papers 5535, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Lucifora, Claudio & Tonello, Marco, 2015. "Cheating and social interactions. Evidence from a randomized experiment in a national evaluation program," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 45-66.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

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