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Is cheating ever okay? Is one kind of cheating more acceptable than another? And, if so, what determines ethical versus unethical cheating? A study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (a journal of the American Psychological Association) says that college-age men do draw a distinction. To them, using steroids in order to enhance athletic performance is less acceptable than using prescription stimulant drugs like Adderall to boost academic performance.
The study polled over 1,000 freshmen from Penn State. The freshmen were given a questionnaire which outlined two hypothetical scenarios. In scenario one, a fictitious college track runner felt pinched for adequate training time before a significant upcoming competition. However, after taking prescription steroids, the athlete outperformed expectations and won his race.
In the second scenario another fictitious college student is heading into exams worried about his grades. In this case, feeling pinched for study time, the student took the prescription drug Adderall to enhance his focus for testing. After doing so, his grades were better than expected.
The real students taking the questionnaire were then asked to rate the two scenarios on a scale from agree/disagree to strongly agree/disagree. They were told to rate each scene based on whether or not the student described had cheated or had only done what was necessary in his situation.
The study participants were then asked about their own history of prescription steroid or prescription stimulant drug use. They were also asked whether or not they had played high school sports. Overall, the respondents believed that it was more okay for a student to use Adderall to help academic performance than it was for an athlete to use steroids.
Interestingly, it did not appear to matter whether or not the respondents had themselves participated in sports or had taken steroids, although if they did report steroid usage, they were even more inclined to label it as unethical cheating over Adderall usage.
Around eight percent of those polled self-reported misusing prescription stimulants such as Adderall within the past year. Less than one percent said they had ever used performance-enhancing steroids. Clearly, these students felt their own cheating behavior was justified.
On a larger scale, between eight and 34 percent of college age students admit to using drugs like Adderall to help them maintain good grades. Just over one percent of high school students say they have used performance-enhancing steroids.
Those conducting this study suggest that responses could be explained by students’ perception that a person’s intelligence is more of a fixed ability than is athleticism. Whether the students were excusing their own cheating behavior or whether their moral choices devolve from an estimation of how much change the drugs wrought isn’t clear.
What is clear is that students would benefit from better understanding the realities of prescription drug misuse and perhaps a better insight into ethics as well.