The Psychology of Plagiarism in Academic Environments

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Why do students plagiarize? Recent investigations at Harvard University have suggested a variety of reasons: some students cite overwhelming course loads, which caused too much stress for their own creative process to work efficiently; others cite the growing instances of plagiarism in the professional world, such as the employment of ghostwriters by professional authors. Finally, some maintain that plagiarism is commonplace in everyday life – from pirating music, to reusing song chords, to un-sourced material being reused across the Internet – and as such does not constitute a serious academic offense.

However, investigations at Georgia Middle State University have demonstrated that academic plagiarism is not necessarily a malicious or lazy action – on the contrary, some students who turn to plagiarism do so out of ignorance, fear, or helplessness. Writing standards and course practices from different institutions of higher education vary widely, and as a result not all students have the same underlying basis for research techniques or source evaluation. Some are unfamiliar with their institution’s library catalogue or scholarly databases, others receive improper citation instruction resources from their professors, and others have trouble distinguishing the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing – a problem which is compounded when the need to paraphrase unfamiliar vocabulary or technical terms arises.

Some students may also feel ashamed of their own intellectual ability, and experience a fear of failure on account of internal or external influences – pressure from family to do well, professorial expectations, personal motivation, etc. It is not uncommon for certain students to feel it more ‘honourable’ to risk expulsion or other academic punishment in exchange for alleviating the pressure felt from their workload, time constraints, or writing and research abilities (or lack thereof). Furthermore, a student with free creative reign on his or her assignments is far less likely to plagiarize than a student who is forced to operate within rigid guidelines which deal in topics they have no interest in.

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References:


Plagiarism and Its Effect on Creative Work (n.d.). Retrieved September 1 2015 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-art/201010/plagiarism-and-its-effect-creative-work.

Plagiarism Prevention Guide: Why Students Plagiarize (n.d.). Retrieved August 31 2015 from http://www.mga.edu/student-success-center/plagiarism/why.aspx.