Hyper-Anxiety & Research Integrity 5: What can we do?

In August of last year, I gave a paper to the University of Melbourne’s Office of Research Ethics and Integrity research seminars, Tuesdays with OREI, on ‘Hyper-Anxiety about Research Integrity among library staff and RHD students’ that ended up doing two different things. The final posts addresses ways of promoting ‘research integrity’ among cohorts who are not already fully signed up to the values of research integrity and academic honesty. 

You can read the whole series by clicking on the category ‘Hyper-Anxiety & Academic Honesty’.

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The previous posts talked about how all this negative focus on academic honesty was not serving graduate students, professional staff, undergraduate students or even serial plagiarists. It’s been pretty doom and gloom.

Okay, finally some good news. This post looks at some strategies that are demonstrated to be effective. 

How can we help students to behave in an academically ethical way?

  1. Emphasise Academic Honesty and Research Integrity, rather than warning students away from academic misconduct.
  2. Maintain the current, clear, strong, fair policy against academic misconduct, and tell students that it exists.
  3. Develop small, positive cues that prompt students towards ethical behaviour.

What does this third step mean for the University?

Research suggests the following:

We know that people are strongly influenced by the threat of punishment[i], (and female students more influenced by the threat of punishment for academic dishonesty than male students[ii]). More specifically, we know that the internalisation of “moral commitment, perceived threat of legal punishment and threat of social disapproval” seem to strongly “inhibit illegal behaviour”.[iii] Davis et al (1993) concluded that

Only when students have developed a stronger commitments to the educational process and an internalized code of ethics which opposes cheating will the problem be dealt with effectively.

Such a code of ethics would enable researchers and staff to negotiate “The complex and shifting nature of real world settings” which “delivers unanticipated ethical issues and (occasionally) genuine dilemmas which go beyond easy or formulaic ‘procedural’ resolution.” (Pollock, 2012). A good example of this complex kind of learning is Horner and Minifie (2011).[iv]

Grasmick & Green suggest people can be motivated to improve their ‘everyday morality’ through positive and small cues. While there remains some unclarity in the literature around what are useful predictors of dishonesty,[v] Bateson, Nettle and Roberts (2006), Desai and Gino (2011) and Shu et al (2011) suggests that small positive cues (like a visualization of eyes, a dotted line to sign, or the presence of a children’s toy or nursery rhyme) are valuable in encouraging honesty.[vi]

Using positive language can also be effective. Reformulating statements to affirm our allegiance to scholarly values might be helpful. So when students sign their cover sheet agreeing that their work is academically honest, they could agree that they are:

  • accurately and fairly representing other scholars’ work and thought,
  • engaging in respectful and accurate critical debate
  • demonstrating their own thinking, learning and analysis in their assessed work.

Small, positive and emotional changes seem to be valuable, both for reducing anxiety and for improving behaviour (Murdock and Anderman 2006).

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So there we have it.

We can encourage those who already ‘get’ academic honesty and research integrity. We can talk through some of the less obvious judgement calls honestly and openly. We can support those who would like to do the right thing, but don’t yet have all the understanding and tools to get it right just yet. And we can avoid encouraging serial cheaters, and maintain a rigourous policy to deal with issues of plagiarism and dishonesty when they arise in a minority of cases.

Prioritising positive, open and clear language around research ethics and integrity, around academic honesty, may help both to reduce hyper-anxiety among research students and staff. It might also contributed to a culture in which commitment to collegiality, scholarship, respect, honesty and ethical behaviour are positive models for aspiration, rather than always tied to punitive notions of procedure.

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References:

[i] Aronson, Elliot, and J. Merrill Carlsmith. “Effect of the severity of threat on the devaluation of forbidden behavior.” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 66.6 (1963): 584.

Hegarty, W. Harvey, and Henry P. Sims. “Some determinants of unethical decision behavior: An experiment.” Journal of applied Psychology 63.4 (1978): 451.

[ii] Davis, Stephen F., et al. “Academic dishonesty: Prevalence, determinants, techniques, and punishments.” Teaching of Psychology 19.1 (1992): 16-20.

[iii] Grasmick, Harold G., and Donald E. Green. “Legal punishment, social disapproval and internalization as inhibitors of illegal behavior.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) 71.3 (1980): 325-335

[iv]Horner, Jennifer, and Fred D. Minifie. “Research ethics II: Mentoring, collaboration, peer review, and data management and ownership.” Journal of speech, language, and hearing research: JSLHR 54.1 (2011): S330-45.

[v] Austin, Zubin, et al. “Influence of attitudes toward curriculum on dishonest academic behavior.” American journal of pharmaceutical education 70.3 (2006)

Bolin, Aaron U. “Self-control, perceived opportunity, and attitudes as predictors of academic dishonesty.” The Journal of Psychology 138.2 (2004): 101-114.

Kidder, Deborah L. “Is it ‘who I am’, ‘what I can get away with’, or ‘what you’ve done to me’? A Multi-theory Examination of Employee Misconduct.” Journal of Business Ethics 57.4 (2005): 389-398.)

Murdock, Tamera B., and Eric M. Anderman. “Motivational perspectives on student cheating: Toward an integrated model of academic dishonesty.” Educational psychologist 41.3 (2006): 129-145

[vi] Bateson, Melissa, Daniel Nettle, and Gilbert Roberts. “Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting.” Biology letters 2.3 (2006): 412-414.

Desai, Sreedhari, and Francesca Gino. “The Return to Innocence: Nursery Rhymes, Soft Toys, and Everyday Morality.” Soft Toys, and Everyday Morality (March 14, 2011).

Shu, Lisa L., et al. “When to Sign on the Dotted Line?: Signing First Makes Ethics Salient and Decreases Dishonest Self-reports.” Harvard Business School, 2011.

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