Moderators of the Effect of Performance Goals on Academic Dishonesty (CHEAT)


The CHEAT project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and conducted in close collaboration by a team of researchers from the University of Augsburg and the University of Mannheim. The main goal of the research project is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the boundary conditions under which performance targets lead to increased cheating behavior. The findings should contribute to a better understanding of the factors that can potentially be addressed in order to reduce the impact of performance targets on cheating behavior.


Academic cheating (e.g., plagiarism) is a frequently reported phenomenon at higher education institutions. It makes sense to assume that students are particularly likely to engage in academic cheating if they aspire to outperform others and to demonstrate their competencies (strong performance goals). However, past research examining the effects of performance goals on cheating has led to conflicting results, where some studies found the expected positive associations, while others did not. In the proposed research project, we aim to provide knowledge on the conditions that determine whether students’ performance goals evoke academic cheating. To this end, we developed a comprehensive theoretical model of possible moderator variables based on the expectation-value theory (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000) and the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 2002). The core assumptions of the postulated model are that performance goals elicit cheating if a) students expect that cheating will reliably lead to the aspired outcome (for this, we consider self-efficacy beliefs as well as performance evaluation standards particularly relevant), b) their attitude towards cheating is not strongly negative, and c) social norms suggest the acceptance of such behavior. Four experimental series (ES) and one field study will be carried out to test these assumptions. The ES consists of three sub-studies (pretest with 42 students, verification and replication of the moderators with 244 students each). In each sub-study, we manipulate achievement goals and one moderator (ES1: social norms; ES2: evaluation of achievement; ES3: attitudes; ES4: self-efficacy). Afterwards, we will measure to what extent the participants engaged in cheating behaviors (i.e., the extent to which they used unauthorized materials, provided answers to unsolvable tasks, or copied) in a series of performance tasks. Thus, the ES allow for an investigation into cheating behaviors under the control of environmental variables. We will supplement these experimental studies by testing the model outside of the laboratory setting with a final field study (aspired sample size: 961 students). In this study, students will be asked about their performance goals, the postulated moderator variables, and past cheating behaviors at university. In sum, this research project will contribute to a better understanding of the conditions under which performance goals affect academic cheating among students. This knowledge should shed light on the conflicting findings regarding the subject matter, and generate new ideas for shaping performance situations in a way that reduces academic cheating.

First Research Results

  • Daumiller, M.* und Janke, S.* (2019). The impact of performance goals on cheating depends on how performance is evaluated. AERA Open, 5(4), 1–10.
  • Daumiller, M. und Janke, S. (2020). Effects of performance goals and social norms on academic dishonesty in a test. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 537–559.
  • Janke, S., Daumiller, M. und Rudert, S. C. (2019). Dark pathways to achievement in science: Researchers’ achievement goals predict engagement in questionable research practices. Social Psychological and Personality Science: SPPS, 10, 783-791.

Project Information

Start date: 01.07.2020


End date: 30.06.2023


Duration: 3 Jahre


Research Funding: DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)


Local project responsiblity: PD Dr. Martin Daumiller


Local researchers.

  • PD Dr. Martin Daumiller
  • Tanja Fritz

Participating researchers / cooperations:

  • Dr. Stefan Janke
  • Hernán González Cruz
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft


Assistant Professor/Senior Lecturer
Research associate, PhD student