Social Control Theory
Social control theory argues that people are motivated to obey the law by social controls but that they do not need any special motivation to violate the law—this occurs naturally in the absence of any social controls. Since social control theorists assume everyone would violate the law if they could get away with it, they concentrate on explaining why people do not commit crime (Cite). In 1986, Haines et al. looked at how 100 undergraduate college students perceived the various social control measures and the controls' effects on the incidence of their cheating behavior. They found that informal social controls were rarely initiated in the presence of student dishonesty. The data showed that when students saw cheating, they were more likely to ignore it than to report it. When asked to suggest some social control that might help control cheating, students ignored informal controls and suggested that teachers should be more proactive toward cheating, and that there should be more publicized discipline of students who were caught cheating. Some students even said cheating was a way of life and we should accept it rather than wasting time trying to control it (Cite). Leming (Cite) studied 153 undergraduates to find the effects of moral conduct on cheating in two specific situations: one with high supervision and high threat of detection and one with low supervision and low threat of detection. He found that, in both situations, students with high moral development cheated less than the other students did. However, he also found that, in the low threat of detection situation, students with high moral development were just as likely to cheat as students with low moral development.
Culture Conflict Theory
Culture conflict theory posits that deviants (cheaters) are members of peer groups that support norms that are in conflict with the norms of conventional society. In 1981, Eve and Bromley (Cite) assessed the efficacy of internal social control theory and culture conflict theory in explaining scholastic cheating by college students. Their study surveyed 681 undergraduate students at a southwestern university in a metropolitan area using questionnaires that assessed the relative honesty or dishonesty on 15 specific behaviors that were related to cheating.
The results of the study indicated confusion and ignorance concerning the norms and values held by most educators. Active, initiating behaviors, such as copying answers, were viewed as more dishonest than were passive, supporting behaviors, such as providing such answers. The data indicated both theories had significance as causes of cheating, with culture conflict theory being a better predictor of cheating than social control theory. The data showed a lack of consensus among students on precisely what activities faculty members are likely to see as forbidden. To reduce cheating, the authors recommend that colleges should: improve admission screening procedures, reduce the “culture conflict” norms and values of fraternities that favor cheating, not emphasize the social environment to the detriment of the intellectual environment, and should insure the faculty clarifies precisely what behavior constitutes cheating.