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Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism

  • Thomas S Dee
  • Brian A. Jacob

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15672.

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Date of creation: Jan 2010
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Publication status: published as Thomas S. Dee & Brian A. Jacob, 2012. "Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 47(2), pages 397-434.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15672
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  1. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," NBER Working Papers 8841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  3. 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.
  4. White, Halbert, 1980. "A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 48(4), pages 817-38, May.
  5. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135.
  6. Stephen G. Donald & Kevin Lang, 2007. "Inference with Difference-in-Differences and Other Panel Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 89(2), pages 221-233, May.
  7. Gary Galles & Philip E. Graves & Robert L. Sexton & Surrey M. Walton, 2003. "Monitoring Costs and Tolerance Levels for Classroom Cheating," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 62(4), pages 713-719, October.
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