The Winter quarter at DePaul started on January 4th, so I’m more than two weeks into a new term. The start of a new term always involves a ramp-up of activities, and one of the things that occupies me is the collection of Academic Integrity pledges from my students. As I explained in a previous post, plagiarism and cheating are common in the introductory Python courses I teach for a variety of reasons. One of the things I do to try to prevent violations of the Academic Integrity policy is to have students read and sign a detailed two-page document describing what kinds of resources and collaboration they are allowed to use and do in the course. They sign the pledge to attest to an understanding of and agreement with the policy. That combined with a first-week quiz on the policy are aimed at making sure that they are aware of expectations.

My pledge is well-known among my colleagues, one of whom recently sent me a link to a YouTube video entitled “Why Do We Lie?” It provides information about the extent of people’s propensity for lying, when and why they lie, and perhaps most interestingly for me, a description throughout of an experiment that was done exploring lying. In the experiment people were given a series of math problems which are relatively easy to solve. The catch was that they were given a lot of them and very little time to solve them. On the honor system they were asked to report the number of problems they correctly solved, with a monetary reward for each one they completed. People were made to believe that researchers wouldn’t know whether they lied or not, although the researchers could in fact determine that in retrospect. In the most basic experiment people reported having solved six problems on average when they had actually only solved four. Multiple variations of the experiment increased the amount of lying, whereas only one variation reduced lying. In the variant in which lying was reduced, the research team made the subjects promise not to cheat. The researchers concluded that the intervention of the conscious mind through the promise was enough to decrease lying.

Now I don’t have any illusions that my pledge is matching the experiment. For a start, the time between when students have to sign the pledge and when they complete the assignments is much greater than in the experiment. But I do find it interesting that I stumbled onto a solution to try to prevent cheating that actually has some evidence to support its effectiveness.