Students who score high on measures of courage, empathy and honesty are less likely than others to have cheated in the past, and to intend to cheat in the future, according to a study at one Ohio university.
Most of the students who reported less cheating during the study were also found to believe that their fellow pupils did not commit academic dishonesty regularly.
Sara Staats, co-author of the research and professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Newark campus, said that students who did not cheat had a more positive view of others.
The researchers also revealed that pupils who scored lower on courage, empathy and honesty, and were more likely to report that they have cheated, saw other students as cheating much more often than they did, rationalizing their own behaviour.
Staats said the continuing research project she has undertaken with Assistant Professor Julie Hupp and undergraduate Psychology student Heidi Wallace, both at Ohio State-Newark, aimed to find out more about the students who did not cheat-and were called "academic heroes".
"Students who don't cheat seem to be in the minority, and have plenty of opportunities to see their peers cheat and receive the rewards with little risk of punishment. We see avoiding cheating as a form of everyday heroism in an academic setting," she said while presenting her findings in Boston at two poster sessions at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
The research also suggested that the academic heroes would feel more guilt if they cheated compared to non-heroes.
"The heroes didn't rationalize cheating the way others did, they didn't come up with excuses and say it was OK because lots of other students were doing it," Staats said.
The researchers say that one reason to study cheating at colleges and universities is to try to figure out ways to reduce academic dishonesty.
They conceded that more work needs to be done to identify the best ways to prevent cheating, but insist that the present research, with its focus on positive psychology, suggests one avenue.
"We need to do more to recognize integrity among our students, and find ways to tap into the bravery, honest and empathy that was found in the academic heroes in our study," Staats said.