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Students who struggle to pay attention in class may be more likely to cheat, study finds

Experts have identified a link between hyperactivity, inattention, and cheating

Cheating in school concept
Photo (c) Andy Sacks - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University found that children who struggle to pay attention in class may be more likely to cheat. The team explained that many of these students are undiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and with the proper resources and assistance, they can be successful academically. 

“Students diagnosed with ADHD get a lot of support and help in school, but many other kids with attention problems fall through the cracks,” said researcher Eric Anderman. “They don’t get the help they need that could help them do better in school and avoid cheating.” 

Hyperactivity may affect kids’ behavior in school

For the study, the researchers had 855 children from three Midwestern public schools answer questions about their ability to pay attention in school, the likelihood that they’d cheat, and their hyperactivity. They reported on how frequently they felt they had to get out of their chairs during class, their general forgetfulness, and if they’d ever cheated off of another student, among other similar questions. 

The researchers found that there were clear links between hyperactivity, inability to pay attention, and the likelihood that students end up cheating. However, while all three factors came into play, the researchers found that students who struggled to pay attention were the most likely to cheat. 

“Inattention is the driver here, the issue that leads to problems in the classroom,” said Anderman. “The student is not paying attention, so he gets out of his seat and goofs around, and when you put both together, that is a perfect setup for more cheating.”

The study showed that being disruptive wasn’t correlated with cheating. Rather, not being able to pay attention made it difficult for students to stay focused solely on their own work. 

The researchers explained that many of these students weren’t diagnosed with ADHD, and this may affect how likely they are to cheat. When students receive the proper resources, they’re better able to focus in school and they’re less likely to cheat. 

“There are so many evidence-based programs that can help these students who have problems with attention learn to self-regulate, to learn how to be a learner,” Anderman said. “If they had access to these programs, they could learn in class and they wouldn’t have to cheat. And these students are not learning partially because of attention issues they can’t help.” 

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