Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory, specifically the differential association-reinforcement component, has been used to study cheating. Several studies have found support for the connection, finding that if close friends and local peers are perceived to regard cheating negatively, the probability of cheating is reduced. In their1989 study, Michaels and Miethe found that student cheating varied directly with the level of perceived support of cheating from their significant others and the extent of pro-cheating attitudes. This was especially true for future cheating (Cite).
Neutralization and rationalization theories
The two interrelated criminological theories of neutralization and rationalization seem to be especially suited to explaining college student cheating. LaBeff et al (Cite) found that cheating was situational and even through students indicated disapproval of cheating; many of them felt justified in cheating under certain circumstances. They found that neutralization and rationalization, which were originally developed to explain delinquency, could also be used to explain how college student cheaters justify their actions.
Neutralization is a type of control theory in which the offender attempts to justify future or ongoing behavior. Rationalization is when the offender attempts to justify past or present behavior (Cite). Generally, cheaters support and conform to the law and usually condemn other lawbreakers, so they need these two theories to justify their illegal actions (Cite). Most forms of cheating are clearly understood by most students as being cheating, such as directly reading another student’s answers, but a student may neutralize or rationalize the “accidental” glimpse of another student’s answers as not actually being an attempt to cheat. Students who help someone else cheat may agree that the other person cheated, but they neutralize or rationalize their own actions as not cheating.