High school students who struggle to pay attention in class are more likely to admit they cheat, according to a new study.
The researchers found that inattention led to hyperactivity in students and that the two together contributed to higher levels of cheating.
The question is important because many students with attention problems do not receive an official diagnosis, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, said Eric Anderman, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at education at Ohio State University.
“Students diagnosed with ADHD get a lot of support and help at school, but many other kids with attention issues fall through the cracks,” Anderman said.
“They’re not getting the help they need that could help them do better in school and avoid cheating.”
Anderman conducted the study with Richard Gilman of Terrace Metrics and Xingfeiyue Liu, a doctoral student, and Seung Yon Ha, a postdoctoral researcher, both in education at Ohio State. Their results were recently published in the journal Psychology in schools.
The researchers studied 855 teenagers from three public schools in the Midwest, two suburban and one rural. Data was collected twice from students, approximately one year apart.
Students completed a standardized measure of inattention that asked them to rate how much trouble they had paying attention to their teacher, how forgetful they were, whether they had a short attention span, and similar questions.
The students’ hyperactivity was assessed by their responses to questions such as whether they had difficulty sitting still and whether they talked over other people.
To assess cheating, students rated how true it would be to say they used cheat sheets when taking tests, copied other students’ answers, and made similar statements.
The results showed that students with higher levels of inattention reported higher levels of hyperactivity, and students who were more hyperactive reported a higher rate of cheating.
The hyperactivity itself was not linked to more cheating.
“Inattention is the driving force here, the problem that leads to problems in the classroom,” Anderman said.
“The student doesn’t pay attention, so he gets up out of his seat and has fun, and when you put the two together, it’s a perfect setup for more cheating.”
The study took into account a wide variety of other factors related to cheating, including depression, learning disabilities, gender, ethnicity, grade point average, and student qualification for educational services. special education – and inattention was always linked to cheating.
Additionally, the researchers also looked at how disruptive students were in class, based on reports from their peers. It did not influence the cheating.
“Once you account for inattention and hyperactivity, we found that the disturbance was unrelated to cheating. It’s not what drives cheating behaviors,” Anderman said.
Generally accepted rates of ADHD are between 7-9% of students aged 17 and under. Studies suggest, however, that up to three times as many college students have problems with attention or hyperactivity, but either don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD or have never been assessed.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need help, Anderman said.
“There are so many evidence-based programs that can help these students with attention problems learn to self-regulate, learn to be a learner,” Anderman said.
“If they had access to these programs, they could learn in the classroom and they wouldn’t have to cheat. And these students aren’t learning partly because of attention issues that they can’t help.”
Data collection for this study was supported by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shiver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Justice.