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in Higher Education
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An examination of factors and attitudes that influence reporting fraudulent claims


in an academic environment
Anna M Carmichael and Lacy E Krueger
Active Learning in Higher Education 2014 15: 173 originally published online 16 April 2014
DOI: 10.1177/1469787414527389
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527389
research-article2014

ALH0010.1177/1469787414527389Active Learning in Higher EducationCarmichael and Krueger

Article

An examination of factors and


attitudes that influence reporting
fraudulent claims in an academic
environment

Active Learning in Higher Education


2014, Vol. 15(2) 173185
The Author(s) 2014
Reprints and permissions:
sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1469787414527389
alh.sagepub.com

Anna M Carmichael
Brandeis University, USA

Lacy E Krueger

Texas A&M UniversityCommerce, USA

Abstract
The study examined potential factors and attitudes associated with providing fraudulent academic claims.
A total of 319 students completed an online survey which involved reading a vignette about an incomplete
assignment. Participants reported whether they would contact their instructor to gain an extension, expressed
their confidence in the believability of reasons for not completing an assignment, and answered questions
about their attitudes toward academic excuse making. The results indicated that academic consequences
of failing to turn in an assignment and communication medium did not affect the rate at which participants
reported claims. Participants most commonly reported family emergency as a reason, and expressed higher
confidence that the instructor would believe this reason if they or a classmate reported it. Furthermore,
a survey about attitudes toward academic excuse making suggested that the belief that academic excuse
making is not really a form of deception was associated with a greater likelihood of reporting a fraudulent
claim, and that those who preferred email communication tended to endorse survey items that conveyed
the ease of reporting academic excuses via email.

Keywords
Academic dishonesty, communication, deception, fraudulent claims

Factors and attitudes that influence academic dishonesty


My grandmother fell down on her patio and I had to go stay with her for a few days and she does not have
internet or a computer and all of my research was in my dorm room

Corresponding author:
Lacy E Krueger, Department of Psychology, Counseling & Special Education, Texas A&M UniversityCommerce, P.O.
Box 3011, Commerce TX 75429, USA.
Email: Lacy.Krueger@tamuc.edu

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Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2)

Despite the presumption that communication involves a transfer of truthful information from a
sender to a receiver, an individual may attempt to mislead another by suggesting ideas that are not
truthful in nature (Buller and Burgoon, 1996). This social phenomenon is broadly defined as deception and has the potential to exist within any context where communication occurs. As in the case of
the quotation above, instructors may encounter information designed to deceive when a student
provides a reason or reasons which they believe would justify the granting of an extension on an
assignment. Nevertheless, reasons for why someone could not complete a task or fulfill an obligation may be truthful, with Caron etal. (1992) distinguishing a fraudulent excuse, which is a fabricated claim meant to deceive the recipient, from a legitimate, reason which is based on events
beyond the students control and that prevented the student from fulfilling the expected task (p. 90).
In the academic setting, a challenge for instructors is to determine the legitimacy of claims reported
to them by students. This is particularly difficult because a claim of family emergency, as in the case
of the scenario above, may very well be truthful in one situation (e.g. the grandmother actually did
fall down) but not in another (e.g. a student fabricates a story that the grandmother fell down because
the student believes that the instructor will feel compassion and grant an extension).
Within an academic environment there are a number of different types of dishonest and deceptive behaviors, including plagiarism and cheating. In order to reduce the prevalence of these dishonest academic behaviors, academic institutions implement a number of different protocols
including computer-based plagiarism detectors to check the originality and authenticity of documents submitted. Similarly, research has shown cheating is best addressed at an institutional level
by the implementation of honor codes, as well as by communicating the importance of academic
integrity between faculty and student (McCabe etal., 2001). While literature has focused on cheating and plagiarism as the two primary forms of academic dishonesty, in actuality the range of
academically dishonest behavior extends far beyond this (Roig and Caso, 2005).
When students are unable to comply with some aspect of an academic task (e.g. due date,
assignment length, quality of work), there is potential for them to communicate reasons as to why
they were unable to complete the task to their instructor. At this point the students have a choice,
in which case they can either provide legitimate reasons for not being able to complete or to submit
their coursework, or they can communicate something which is a deliberate attempt to deceive the
instructor. A student may communicate information designed to deceive or construct a fraudulent
claim to an instructor in order to avoid the undesirable consequences (e.g. a bad grade that may hurt
the students overall standing in a class) of not complying with the academic task. Roig and Caso
(2005) found that the frequency of which providing fraudulent claims occurs in an academic environment is approximately equal to, if not greater than, more commonly identified forms of academic dishonesty such as cheating and plagiarism. Ferrari etal. (1998) indicated that fraudulent
claim making was utilized by as many as 70% of American college students. However, this phenomenon has received limited empirical attention in recent time in comparison to other forms of
academically dishonest behavior.
Nevertheless, academic deception is a critical area of research with studies suggesting that students do not consistently view academic dishonesty as negative behavior (Anderman and Murdock,
2007). In theory, when individuals (in the case of this study, students) attempt to deceive, it can be
said to be successful when the person who is on the receiving end of it (in the case of the study,
instructors) is unaware that he or she has been deceived. In exchanges like this, the relationship
between a student and an instructor may not be damaged, and therefore it may not be viewed by the
student as a negative behavior (Walczyk etal., 2008), but indeed as a victimless crime, with no
parties involved suffering any perceived negative consequences.
An additional reason why people, including students, may choose to attempt to deceive, whether
in higher education or anywhere else, involves the law of effect, which proposes the idea that

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potential positive outcomes motivate individuals to engage in behavior that will result in these
outcomes (Szabo and Underwood, 2004). In the context of higher education, students making the
decision to engage in academically deceptive behavior may do so in order to avoid damaging
effects to their academic standing and therefore achieve a more positive situation for themselves.
Because it is viewed as a victimless crime (Anderman and Murdock, 2007), engaging in a behavior
that results in only positive outcomes may reinforce this deceptive behavior.
While the law of effect may help explain how individuals justify engaging in attempts to
deceive, whether in higher education or anywhere else, another aspect of understanding the phenomenon is to address the factors that contribute to creating a situation whereby individuals feel it
is necessary for them to engage in this deceptive behavior. Attempts to deceive, in the academic
context, occur largely due to procrastination of an academic task which involves purposefully
delaying completing an academic task (Ferrari etal., 1998). As a result of this procrastination,
students may choose to attempt to deceive their instructors by providing false claims to avoid negative academic consequences. These negative consequences have the potential to vary depending on
the class that the individual is enrolled in and the grade percentage of the academic task that is in
question.
Contrary to negative connotations that may be attached to deceptive behavior, recent literature
has proposed the possibility of viewing deception as a form of social problem solving (Walczyk
etal., 2008). Social problem solving involves an individual adapting to the unique dynamics of a
social situation in order to resolve a dilemma. In the case of attempting to deceive in the academic
context, the goal of the behavior is convincing an instructor that a fabricated claim is worthy of
granting a student an extension or a leniency for an academic task, therefore resolving a problematic situation. It is possible that if someone, whether a student or anyone else, perceives creating a
fabricated claim as a form of social problem solving, he or she may perceive the behavior as having
no negative implications for anyone involved, rendering the deceptive behavior a victimless
crime (Anderman and Murdock, 2007), which may make the person more willing to participate in
the behavior (Eisenberg, 2004).

Communication medium
Recent years have seen an increase in the utilization of email as a means for communication, and
in turn, email has been increasingly integrated into the education system as a way of communicating between students and instructors (Jones, 2002). While there has been literature in recent times
investigating the relationship between communication medium and deceptive behavior, this
research is confined mainly to studying the influence of communication medium on everyday
deception, and many of the findings have been conflicting. Literature and results from studies on
the role that communication medium (namely, face-to-face and email) has upon deceptive communication is divided into different theories and findings.
Social Distance Hypothesis suggests that individuals may be likely to use mediums that omit
body and facial cues from their communication (Hancock etal., 2004). Literature suggests that
technology-enabled communication such as email that removes the presence of nonverbal cues
found in face-to-face communication may make deception easier for individuals (Suh, 1999).
Similarly, a study by Hancock etal. (2010) suggested that highly motivated deceivers interacting
in a computer-mediated environment were the most successful in deceiving their target.
In contrast to the literature supporting the idea that email communication may be preferable to
face-to-face, the Media Richness Theory proposes that face-to-face may be a more preferable platform for deceptive communication compared to email due to the real-time responses of the target
of the deception and the ability to personalize a message and adapt. In a study by Hancock etal.

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(2004), participants self-reported their lying behavior over a period of 7 days. They found that
individuals were the most deceptive via the telephone and least in email. These theories in conjunction with other literature help explain the perceived advantages and disadvantages of utilizing different mediums for deceptive communication.
There is, however, a need to further examine the reasons given, or claims made, as a function of
deception in an academic environment. Literature has acknowledged the existence of claim making, whether in an academic or any other environment, and studies such as those by Roig and Caso
(2005) and Ferrari etal. (1998) have identified the reasons that students come up with in order to
justify why they should be given an extension or given any other kind of leniency when it comes
to assessment. In their studies students self-report actively using both legitimate and fraudulent
claims including computer troubles, family emergency, not understanding the assignment, and
personal illness.
There is a need to extend upon the literature on the nature or kind of reasons that students give
when it comes to making claims and examine potential factors that might influence the likelihood
of engaging in making such claims, particularly when fraudulent reasons are provided rather than
truthful ones. Specifically, communication medium and academic consequences are identified as
potential factors. Communication medium is defined as the method that students have at their disposal to contact their instructor (email or a face-to-face meeting), while academic consequences
are defined as the percentage weight of the academic task on their grade in the class. While
researchers have asked students to provide retrospective reports of their own activities as to why
they engage in making claims that they know to be either wholly or in part untrue (Caron etal.,
1992; Ferrari etal., 1998), self-reporting is not without its considerable limitations, not least of
which is that whatever they write might later be traced back to the individual who wrote it, despite
every attempt to ensure anonymity. Providing students with a hypothetical situation is an additional, and valuable, technique to investigate factors associated with why people, in this case students, make claims that they know to be untrue or which are, perhaps, more economical with the
truth than they should be. Factors such as academic consequences and communication medium
can be experimentally manipulated using vignettes in a hypothetical scenario to provide an indication of which variables appear to influence decisions about making claims designed to deceive, and
whether these variables interact. It is predicted that larger consequences would result in more
fraudulent claims being reported. Because individuals tend to prefer email over face-to-face communication when faced with a greater likelihood of rejection (Joinson, 2004) and the ease of email
communication, it is predicted that students would be more likely to make claims designed to
deceive via email, which is consistent with the social distance hypothesis (Hancock etal., 2004).
In conjunction with these factors of communication medium and motivation of academic consequences, there is also the need to examine individuals confidence that a self-reported claim
would be believed by an instructor. Due to the potential for individuals to be hesitant to report their
own claims of possibly fraudulent activity or provide potentially inaccurate reports, if we are to
explore this, then we need to take into account what types of claims that students in general view
as compelling ones, ones which they believe will ensure that the person who deals with such a
claim will buy and thus make certain that they get the advantage that they believe that they
should get, and also which medium they prefer to communicate such claims. It may well be the
case that students are more confident in providing fraudulent claims via email based on the social
distance hypothesis (Hancock etal., 2004).
There is also a need to investigate the relationship between students attitudes toward academic
dishonesty, communication medium, and their readiness to make a claim that is an attempt to gain
advantage, or to deceive, in an academic situation. If this is viewed as victimless crime, then one
would expect that individuals who report that they would make such a claim to gain an extension

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on an assignment would be more likely to endorse statements that so doing is not a form of dishonesty. In other words, individuals who knowingly make claims designed to deceive may view it as
a victimless crime, with no one being harmed by this form of deception. We also need to find out
individuals preference of communication medium and views about the ease of deception based on
communication medium.

Method
Participants
A total of 319 undergraduate students (228 female, 91 male) aged 1858 years (M = 23.4 years)
at a university in the United States participated in the study. The students ranged in university
classification level with 73 first-year, 64 second-year, 101 third-year, and 81 final-year
undergraduates.

Procedure
Participants completed the study online via the online survey-hosting website SurveyMonkey
(SurveyMonkey Inc., n.d.). Upon providing consent, participants were randomly assigned to read
one of four vignettes about a classmate who had not completed an assignment described below:
It is a Monday morning at 10am and Alex has an assignment due in a 300-level majors class. The
assignment is due in one hour at the beginning of class, and it is worth X% of Alexs final grade in the
class. Due to underestimating the difficulty and time consuming nature of the assignment, Alex began
working on it the night before, and has completed less than half the assignment. Alex realizes that there is
no way that the assignment will be completed in-time for class.

Participants assigned to the low academic consequence condition saw in the place of the X that
the assignment was worth 5%, whereas the high academic consequences condition read that the
assignment was worth 40%. Additionally, below this passage, participants read one of the following statements indicating the communication medium to contact the instructor: (1) Alexs instructor, who has been teaching for 10 years, noted in the syllabus that if students needed to contact him
about assignments or the course material, they should do so via email, or (2) Alexs instructor, who
has been teaching for 10 years, noted in the syllabus that if students needed to contact him about
assignments or the course material, they must speak with him in person, at the beginning of class
or via appointment.
Following reading the vignette, participants were asked to imagine that they were in the situation described in the vignette and answered whether they would contact their instructor to try to
gain an extension. If they responded yes, then they were directed to a question asking them if they
would make up an excuse in order to gain an extension. Participants who provided a Yes
response were asked to report their reason and then rate their confidence on a scale of 0%100%
(0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, or 100%) that the instructor would grant them an extension if given
this reason. All participants, including participants who did not ask for an extension, were asked, if
given an option, whether they would feel more confident communicating an excuse to the professor via email or in a face-to-face meeting.
After participants reported how they would respond if they were in the classmates situation,
they then were told that the academic situation like the one described about Alex happened on a
regular basis. They were told to imagine that Alex decided to create an excuse in order to gain an
extension, and he was trying to decide what excuse he should tell the professor in order to gain an

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Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2)

extension on his assignment. Participants were told that they would be shown commonly used
excuses that Alex was considering, and they were asked to rate how confident they were that the
instructor would believe this type of excuse (and therefore grant him an extension). Participants
rated their confidence on a scale of 0%100% that computer troubles, family emergency, personal
illness, and did not understand assignment would be believed by the instructor.
Next, participants completed a 10-item survey assessing their attitudes about providing academic excuses, including fraudulent excuses (see Table 1 for the actual survey items). Their
responses were scored on a 5-point Likert scale, with question 9 being reverse scored. Participants
then completed a demographic questionnaire before being debriefed about the purpose of the study.

Results
Proportion of students seeking extension
To assess whether communication medium and academic consequences influenced an individuals
likelihood to report a claim in an academic situation, a 2 (Academic Consequences: Low, High)
2 (Communication Medium: Email, Face-to-Face) analysis of variance (ANOVA) on the mean
proportion of participants who reported they would contact their instructor to ask for an extension
was conducted. The ANOVA did not reveal a main effect of Academic Consequences, F(1, 315) =
3.26, p = .07, , although numerically the low academic consequences group (M = .66, standard
error (SE) = .04) was less likely to ask for an extension compared to the high academic consequences group (M = .75, SE = .04). In addition, the ANOVA did not yield a significant main effect
of Communication Medium, F(1, 315) = .77, or a significant Academic Consequences
Communication Medium Interaction, F(1, 315) = 0.16, ps > .37.

Characterization of claims provided for an extension


A total of 226 participants responded that they would ask for an extension, and their responses to
the question What excuse would you tell the instructor? were coded as technological issues (e.g.
computer problems, power outages), family emergency (e.g. sick child), did not understand the
assignment (e.g. unsure about instructions), and personal illness (e.g. sick with the flu). Additionally,
we included other (e.g. work obligations, extracurricular activities, or more than one reason
provided from the aforementioned categories) and truth (e.g. procrastination, underestimated the
time to complete the assignment) as two categories to capture participants responses. However, 2
of the 226 participants did not provide a reason, and they were excluded from the analyses. The
inter-rater reliability for the coding of participants responses was = .91, and a third rater classified the response type when a discrepancy occurred between the two raters.
Nearly 39% of the participants reported that they would tell the truth to the instructor. Of the
remaining categories, 2.5% reported a technology issue, 6.6% provided family emergency, 4.7%
stated difficulty of the assignment, and 4.4% reported personal illness when providing fraudulent
claims. Additionally, 13.5% reported other reasons, including multiple ones, when providing a
response.
A subsequent analysis was conducted to investigate whether academic consequences and communication medium affected the likelihood of reporting a fraudulent claim versus telling the truth.
Participants who reported technology issues, family emergency, did not understand the assignment, personal illness, or other were classified as reporting a fraudulent claim in an attempt to gain
advantage, or to deceive, whereas those who stated that they had procrastinated or underestimated
how long it would take to complete the assignment were deemed as telling the truth (in other

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0.30
1.0

1.0

1.0

0.14

0.23

1.0

0.14

0.28

0.23

1.0

0.23

0.20

0.18

0.28

1.0

0.40

0.04

0.15

0.15

0.11

1.0

0.23

0.25

0.14

0.24

0.19

0.33

1.0

0.45

0.32

0.40

0.16

0.16

0.24

0.38

0.01

0.07

0.24

0.11

0.25

0.07

1.0

0.03

0.03

1.0

0.19

0.18

0.08

0.24

0.21

0.02

.06

0.10

0.10

10

1.0

0.19

0.05

0.06

0.09

0.20

0.10

0.01

.01

0.09

0.08

11

0.01
1.0

0.04

0.13

0.12

0.33

0.05

0.11

0.04

.08

0.06

0.21

12

Items 110 refer to the survey items. Question 9 was reversed scored. Claim reported refers to whether or not a fraudulent claim was reported (coded 1) or whether no
claim was provided or the truth was told (coded 0). Preferred medium refers to which medium students felt more confident providing a claim if given a choice between meeting face-to-face (coded 1) or email (coded 0). Absolute r values of .11 or greater are significant at p < .05 and values .16 or greater at p < .01.

1.It is easy to get away with making up excuses in


an academic environment
2.It is hard for professors to prove that fraudulent
excuses are not true
3.Successful academic excuse making is easier for
people who are more intelligent
4.Excuse making does not often result in academic
punishment, compared to cheating and plagiarism
5.Successful excuse making in an academic
environment has virtually no negative
consequences for anyone
6.Academic excuse making is not really a type of
deception
7.Instructors are more likely to believe students
excuses when communicated via email
8.Instructors do not usually question excuses that
are emailed
9.If I was aware that a classmate made up an
excuse to gain an extension, I would inform my
instructor
10.It is unfair if a student uses an untruthful excuse
to gain an extension on an assignment and
receives a better grade than a student who
turned in the assignment on time
11. Claim reported (1 = Yes; 0 = No)
12. Preferred medium (1 = Meeting; 0 = Computer)

Table 1. Correlations between academic excuse making and academic dishonesty survey items and academic claim making.

Carmichael and Krueger


179

180

Proportion Reporting a Claim


for an Extension Request

Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2)


.70
.60
.50

Academic Consequences

.40

Low Consequence

.30

High Consequence

.20
.10
.00
Email
Face-to-Face
Communication Medium

Figure 1. Mean proportion of participants reporting a claim for an extension as a function of academic
consequences and communication medium.

words, no fabricated claim reported in an attempt to gain advantage, or to deceive). A 2 (Academic


Consequences: Low, High) 2 (Communication Medium: Email, Face-to-Face) ANOVA on the
proportion of participants who indicated that they would claim something as an attempt to gain
advantage or to deceive did not yield a main effect of Academic Consequences, F(1, 220) = 0.38,
p = .54, or Communication Medium, F(1, 220) = 1.28, p = .26. As demonstrated in Figure 1, while
the interaction between Academic Consequences and Communication Medium was not significant, F(1, 220) = 1.99, p = .16, , and when the communication medium was via email, those in the
high consequence group tended to be more likely to report a claim that is an attempt to gain advantage or to deceive whereas in the face-to-face condition those in low consequence condition were
more likely to do so.

Confidence in self-reported claims for requesting an extension


To assess the confidence of participants self-reported reasons for requesting an extension on an
assignment, a 2 (Academic Consequences: Low, High) 2 (Communication Medium: Email,
Face-to-Face) 6 (Claim Type: Technological Issues, Family Emergency, Did not Understand
Assignment, Personal Illness, Other, Truth) ANOVA was conducted. There were not significant
main effects of Academic Consequences or Communication Medium, Fs < 0.52. Furthermore,
there were not any significant two-way or three-way interactions, Fs < 2.28. However, the main
effect of claim type, F(5, 201) = 1.83, p = .11, , approached marginal significance. Post hoc Least
Significant Difference tests indicated that participants expressed greater confidence that an extension would be provided when providing family emergency (M = 48.17, SE = 5.50) and personal
illness (M = 56.25, SE = 7.30) as a claim compared to reporting the truth (M = 37.97, SE = 2.05),
ts > 2.82, ps < .05.

Confidence in peer-reported claims for requesting an extension


To investigate how confident participants believed that particular claims would be believed by an
instructor when communicated by a peer, a 2 (Academic Consequences: Low, High) 2
(Communication Medium: Email, Face-to-Face) 4 (Claim Type: Computer Troubles, Family
Emergency, Did not Understand Assignment, Personal Illness) ANOVA was conducted. This
ANOVA yielded a significant main effect of claim type, F(3, 945) = 230.99, p < .001, . As depicted

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Carmichael and Krueger


100
90

Mean Confidence (%)

80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Computer Troubles Family Emergency Did Not Understand
Assignment
Claim Type for Extension Request

Personal Illness

Figure 2. Mean confidence on a scale of 0%100% that a claim communicated by a peer would be
believed by an instructor and result in granting an extension on an assignment.

in Figure 2, participants reported greater confidence that instructors would believe a classmate who
used family emergency when providing an instructor a fraudulent claim than if they communicated
computer troubles, did not understand assignment, or personal illness, as indicated by a post hoc
Least Significant Difference test, ts > 2.54, ps < .05. Furthermore, this post hoc test indicated that
participants expressed higher confidence for personal illness, t(945) = 13.87, and computer troubles, t(945) = 11.30, ps < .01, than did not understand assignment. The ANOVA revealed no main
effects of academic consequences or communication, Fs < 1.21, ps > .27. Finally, Communication
Medium Claim Type, F(3, 945) = 2.00, p = .11, and Communication Medium Claim Type
Academic Consequences, F(3, 945) = 1.92, p = .12, interactions approached significance.

Attitudes toward academic excuse making and academic dishonesty


A preliminary 2 (Academic Consequences: Low, High) 2 (Communication Medium: Email,
Face-to-Face) 10 (Survey Item) ANOVA on participants endorsement of questions about academic excuse making and attitudes toward academic dishonesty was computed to discern whether
the vignette manipulation affected participants responses to the survey. As indicated by a lack of
main effects of academic consequences and communication medium, and no significant interactions involving these variables, Fs < 1.17, ps > .30, the exposure to the vignette did not appear to
affect participants survey ratings. As such, the data were collapsed across conditions.
A correlation was computed between mean scores on a survey about participants attitudes and
their likelihood of reporting an academic claim to their instructor in order to gain an extension (1
= fraudulent claim reported; 0 = no claim reported or truth). Note that the correlation analysis
showed the same pattern of results when only those who reported that they would ask for extension
(and provided a truthful response) were included in the data analysis. As displayed in Table 1, a
positive correlation between communicating a claim and the belief that academic excuse making is

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Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2)

not really a form of deception was found, r(319) = .20, p < .001. Furthermore, a significant negative correlation occurred between the belief that it is unfair that a classmate receives an extension
and better grade by reporting a fraudulent excuse and the likelihood to report a claim, r(319) =
.19, p = .001.
A final analysis assessed the relationship between preferred communication medium and attitudes toward academic excuse making, including academically dishonest claims. A total of 155
participants (48.6%) reported that they would feel more confident communicating a claim to the
instructor via email compared to face-to-face communication if they were given the option, whereas
the remaining 164 participants (51.4%) preferred face-to-face. Note that a distinction between
truthful and fraudulent reasons was not made in the survey item. A correlation analysis between
preferred communication medium (with face-to-face communication coded as 1 and email coded
as 0) and the survey items revealed four significant findings. First, those who preferred email correspondence reported higher endorsement to the statement that it was easy to get away with making
up excuses in the academic environment, r(319) = .21, p < .001. Second, those who preferred
email also indicated that they thought instructors were more likely to believe excuses via email,
r(319) = .33, p < .001, and third, that instructors do not usually question the integrity of excuses
communicated via email, r(319) = .12, p < .05. Finally, there was a negative correlation between
communication medium and reporting a classmate made up a fraudulent excuse to the instructor,
r(319) = .13, p < .05. Namely, participants who preferred email communication expressed less
agreement with the statement that they would tell on one of their classmates.

Discussion and conclusion


Literature has acknowledged that within institutions of higher learning, students convey information in order to deceive their instructors (Ferrari etal., 1998; Roig and Caso, 2005), and different
rationalizations have been applied to understand and predict future behavior in relation to this
phenomenon. The law of effect (Szabo and Underwood, 2004) postulates that students may attempt
to deceive their instructors by providing them with fraudulent claims as a result of being motivated
by the potential positive outcomes of successfully communicating their claim to their instructor. In
our study, the potential positive outcome included an extension on the assignment. The study
described in this article did not reveal that those in the higher academic consequences condition
were statistically more likely to produce a fraudulent claim than those in the low consequences
condition. Yet while an incomplete assignment worth 5% of a grade is likely to have minimal effect
on students academic standing in a particular class, an assignment worth 40% has potential to
dramatically influence students overall grade. The lack of significant effect of academic consequences suggests that individuals are willing to create fraudulent claims, regardless of the severity
of the negative consequences they are trying to avoid. The finding that 66% of individuals would
engage in deceptive behavior to avoid what could be deemed as very minor negative consequences
for those not completing an assignment worth 5% of their grade poses an interesting question for
future studies in this area. Namely, do consequences matter in relation to fraudulent claim making,
or is it the individuals beliefs about communicating information that is deceptive to instructors that
matter?
Studies on the role that communication medium has upon deceptive behavior have been conflicting, and the study described here did not reveal differences in the rate at which participants
provided an academic claim by communication medium. A study by Suh (1999) suggested that
deception may be easier via technological communication as it removes the presence of verbal
cues that an individual may expose while deceiving an individual in a face-to-face setting. Similarly,
Hancock etal.s (2004) social distance hypothesis proposed that maintaining social distance

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between the individual deceiving and the target of the deceit may increase ease and confidence of
deceptive communication. Conversely, the media richness theory (Daft and Lengel, 1984; Hancock
etal., 2004) suggested that individuals may be more confident in providing a fraudulent claim via
face-to-face as they have real-time feedback and message personalization. The study described
here involved many individuals citing reasons like My face turns red very easily so I would rather
make up an excuse through an email for why they preferred email communication in deceptive
situations, supporting the social distance hypothesis, while others in favor of the face-to-face
method highlighted the importance of the personalization and real-time feedback of the media richness theory and provided descriptions such as it is more personal and shows that I took the time
to communicate with them. These descriptions warrant further investigation to understand the
contribution of these two theories to why students (or in general, individuals) favor one communication type over the other when individuals are providing information meant to deceive.
While studies have reported illness as the most frequently self-reported reason communicated
to instructors for not being able to fulfill an academic obligation (Caron etal., 1992; Ferrari etal.,
1998), the study described here found that family emergency was reported as the claim students
would be most likely to utilize when faced with a potential situation to report a fraudulent claim in
order to gain an extension on an assignment. This disparity in findings could be due to the difference in research methodology. Participants in the study described here responded to a hypothetical
situation, while studies by Ferrari etal. (1998) and Caron etal. (1992) involved participants recalling specific times in their academic histories in which they utilized different methods of communication. Nevertheless, the confidence ratings for self-reported reasons for requesting an extension
aligned with confidence ratings for the set of potential peer-reported reasons. The results suggest
that students perceive family emergency as more believable by an instructor than the other claim
types, and they also expressed higher confidence in claims about personal illness and computer
troubles than did not understand an assignment. It is worthwhile to note that while participants
reported fraudulent claims, a number of participants also indicated that they would tell the truth to
their instructor when asking for an extension. However, participants reporting the truth expressed
less confidence that the instructor would grant them an extension. Overall, the results suggest that
students may believe that fabricating a claim such as experiencing a family emergency, computer
troubles, or personal illness would have a greater payoff, with instructors being more likely to grant
an assignment extension, over telling the truth that they procrastinated.
In addition to students considering certain claims as being more likely to be believed by instructors, studies also suggest that particular characteristics of the instructor and class may influence the
likelihood of students reporting a fraudulent claim. Ferrari etal. (1998) reported that fabricated
claims were typically used with lower level lecture courses and with lenient and young instructors.
They also noted that a trial-and-error system is often used by students, whereby if an instructor
does not require proof of the claim, they may engage in the same claim-making behavior in future
situations. The study described here utilized a vignette that described a male teacher with 10 years
of teaching experience and was teaching an upper level undergraduate course. A possible future
direction is to examine the effects of academic consequences and communication medium when
the identity and experience of the teacher is manipulated.
The final analysis examined participants survey responses about their attitudes and beliefs
toward different aspects of academic excuse making and academic dishonesty. Whitley (1998)
suggested that individuals attitudes toward cheating are strong predictors of cheating behaviors.
The results from the study described here aligned with Whitleys contention that there is an association between beliefs and behavior. While we did not directly measure behavior, we found a positive
correlation between the belief that academic excuse making is not really a form of deception and
communicating a claim to an instructor to seek an extension on an assignment. LaPieres (1934)

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Active Learning in Higher Education 15(2)

seminal study on attitudes versus behavior demonstrated that how individuals behaved differed
from their expressed attitudes (see Dockery and Bedeian, 1989, for a review). Since then researchers
have identified instances when attitudes appear to influence behavior (Cialdini etal., 1981).
Therefore, students attitudes may predict their behavior, and it would be worthwhile to investigate
additional situations and potential moderating factors that may influence this relationship.
An additional analysis between preferred communication medium and individual survey item
responses revealed four trends. First, individuals who reported they preferred email communication over face-to-face with instructors reported higher endorsement that instructors were more
likely to believe excuses that are emailed. Second, instructors do not usually question the integrity
of excuses communicated. Third, it is easy to get away with making up excuses in an academic
environment. Fourth, the negative correlation between communication medium and endorsement
that participants would report a classmate who made up a fraudulent claim to the instructor suggests that individuals communicating via email would be less likely to implicate classmates on
account of their wrongdoing to their instructor.
Given that attitudes about academic dishonesty were associated with the likelihood of reporting
a fraudulent claim in our single study, a focus for future research includes replicating this finding
and trying to understand why individuals hold different beliefs and attitudes about academic dishonesty, and whether this varies by academic institutions. One such study that addressed this latter
issue examined selectivity of college as a factor of academic procrastination and academic claim
making (Ferrari etal., 1998), which may be a limitation of the study described here as the research
was conducted on a sample of students from only one university. For this reason, if attitudes and
beliefs about communicating fraudulent claims to instructors are influenced by factors within the
academic environment of a university (e.g. academic prestige, selectivity of university) that an
individual attends, examining these factors across multiple institutions may be a future direction in
expanding the literature and helping to understand the complexities of this phenomenon.
Additionally, students enrolled in psychology courses participated in this study, and it would be
worthwhile to investigate whether similar findings would occur across academic disciplines.
Consistent with literature (Ferrari etal., 1998; Jones, 2002; Roig and Caso, 2005), the study
described here found that individuals do engage in reporting claims in an attempt to deceive their
instructor even when motivated by academic tasks with low academic consequences and, possibly
more alarmingly, that many students possess great confidence in their abilities to get away with
reporting fraudulent claims. The study described here revealed that over one-quarter of participants
in all conditions reported that they would create a fraudulent academic claim, and findings suggested
that students reported attitudes about academic dishonesty complement their likelihood to report
these fraudulent claims. In order to minimize the occurrence of fraudulent academic claim making
within an academic environment, solutions to this frequently occurring deceptive behavior may be
found by further research into the attitudes that students possess about academic dishonesty as a focal
point of study in order to help understand this widely used but little understood phenomenon.
Funding
This research was funded through an Undergraduate Research Grant Competition from Texas A&M
University-Commerce awarded to the first author. The research received no other specific grant from any
funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Author biographies
Anna M Carmichael is a graduate student at Brandeis University. This project was her undergraduate honors
thesis at Texas A&M UniversityCommerce. Address: Department of Psychology, Brandeis University, 415
South Street, Waltham MA 02453, USA. [email: amc@brandeis.edu]
Lacy E Krueger, an Assistant Professor of psychology, teaches life span development and cognitive psychology courses at the undergraduate and post-graduate level. Her research interests include metacognition and
individual differences in learning. Address: Department of Psychology, Counseling & Special Education,
Texas A&M UniversityCommerce, P.O. Box 3011, Commerce TX 75429, USA. [email: Lacy.Krueger@
tamuc.edu]

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