Embracing Evolutionary "Cheating"on October 25, 2006 at 12:00 am
The most important question of the Hendricks Forum was this: were all researchers CITI certified? If not, did they share this secret with their subjects? Does the scientists have secret brainscans showing which “terror modules” light up when he informed his participants-slash-victims of his wildly unethical research methodologies? We may never know.
What we can know, however, is how Alford & Hibbing’s findings can be immediately applied to the classroom. Consider a common learning situation: two students are studying for a graded, non-curved assignment, and one student is in a position to help another. Many educators have believed that the best way to deter one student from doing work to another is to increase penalties and be on the look-out for side-payments (popularity granted to a smart but dorky student by popular but dull ones, for instance). However, if people will do more work for another than the other would ask for if the issue of representation is involved, then the range of potential cheaters becomes much broader. No longer are we looking only for those who want to increase their own station, but at altruists who are completing educational “puzzles” for another student.
We can contrast the academic cheating behavior of the “economic man” and the “wary cooperator” in a simple experiment. Use a subject and a confederate, and inform them that because of a last-minute conflict, the University has asked them to take their skill tests unsupervised in the same room at the same time. Full credit will go to right answers, and no credit will go to wrong answers. Make it possible for a student to help another cheat, but after the end of the run inform him that he may accuse the other of cheating. Add a point to the cheater’s score, but inform the subject that the accusation will zero out the confederate’s There are four conditions with four possible responses to test whether students faced with the dilemma of helping another cheat will act like wary cooperators or rational actors:
- Condition I. Introduce Subjects. Confederate suffering.
- Condition II. Introduce Subjects. Confederate offers bribe.
- Condition III. Don’t introduce Subjects. Confederate suffering.
- Condition IV. Don’t introduce Subjects. Confederate offers bribe.
- Response A. Subject Assists. Subject keeps silent.
- Response B. Subject Assists. Subject informs on confederate.
- Response C. Subject Doesn’t Assist. Subject keeps silent.
- Response D. Subject doesn’t Assist. Subject informs on confederate.
Standard economic theory gives the following predicted paths
- If Condition I, should choose Response D, least likely to favor Response A
- If Condition II,should choose Response B, least likely to choose Response C
- If Condition III, should choose Response D, least likely to favor Response A
- If Condition IV, should choose Response B, least likely to follow Response C
Classroom teachers, of course, view “D” as the only acceptable path.
Because of the conflicting possible frames this situation could be put in, I do not believe we can yet create a “genetic factors” model with this same degree of precision. However, we can identify where it flatly disagrees with the economic model of cheating.
Under Condition I, D should be the least likely outcome. Under introduction, the subject should be prepared to help the confederate with no personal compensation. Likewise, free-riding against an innocent but suffering player is doubtful. Likewise, under Condition III D should also be the least likely outcome. (Two variations are not shown in this mini-experimental design: confederate suffers and offers bribe and confederate doesn’t suffer and doesn’t offer bribe. The first possibility confounds fault and no-fault non-cooperation, while the second should have zero “cheating” under both models. However, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely useless – it may be worthwhile, for instance, to see if the subject would retaliate if his requests for assistance from the confederate is rebuffed by accusing the confederate of cheating, even if we make the reward for turning in a cheater negative!).
A finding that confirms wary cooperation would have profound impact in how we deal with cheaters. If we find that the most pro-social students cheat out of empathy, this further throws the value of individual work into doubt. Instead, work should be group-oriented as much as possible, because this will exploit the student’s natural desire to help a peer in need while demarcating out-group-members as non-peers for the purposes of cooperation.