Schreiber science

Aaron Bialer, Copy Editor

In the back of a classroom, under a light that has been out for over a week, taking an exam atop a desk layered with inky profanities, after getting three hours of sleep despite not truly getting a chance to study, you see your academic superior’s paper one foot from the edge of your desk.  It takes only a moment to read all the answers off the page of multiple choice, four pages ahead of the page you are on, and copy them down onto your Scantron.
As little as people admit to it, cheating is widespread among the student body.  The factors contributing to this epidemic of academic immorality can mainly be broken down into the fields of game theory and psychology.

That light that has been out for over a week provides a mask of illusory anonymity that one study suggests increases the chance that people will cheat.  Three rooms full of people with different lighting were asked to do math questions, earning cash for each correct answer.  Those in the darkest room were more likely to claim to the supervisors that they had gotten more answers correct than they had.

The inky profanities cause a similar tendency among test takers.  Graffiti or other messy results of rebelliousness change the environment to significantly promote the chances that people will cheat.

Sleep deprivation may also increase the tendency to cheat.  Not everyone suffering from a night of little sleep will suddenly drop their values and search for values, but rather that those who may cheat in general are more likely when they sleep less.

One can also analyze the choice of whether or not to cheat as a game theory dilemma.  Each student is given two choices: to cheat or not to cheat.  In each case, one is the dominant strategy and one is the dominated strategy.  The dominant strategy is that which would give the better results no matter what other players choose to do; the dominated gives worse results.

Different scenarios result in different decisions.  With an older, inattentive teacher, the dominant strategy would most likely be to cheat.  The risk of getting caught is low, so cheating will yield higher scores with little cost.  Thus, the Nash Equilibrium is when everyone cheats.  Nash Equilibrium is defined as the solution concept of a non-cooperative two player game.  The Nash Equilibrium results from each player using his or her dominant strategy.  In the case of cheating, the game is more than two players, yet people’s behavior parallels that of a two player game.

With a teacher that often catches cheaters, the dominant strategy would be to not cheat, as the gains of cheating are balanced by the risk of getting caught.

Morals should play as much a role in the decision of whether to cheat or not to cheat as GPA boosting.  Be wary and next time that you are in a dark, graffitied room, running on three hours of sleep, remember that cheating is not always a good choice.