Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seeds of adult dishonesty are sown in youth, study finds

A new study claims there is truth to the adage: People who cheated on exams in high school are considerably more likely to be dishonest later in life, according to a report to be released today by the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

The study, which surveyed nearly 7,000 people in various age groups nationwide, offers a sobering assessment of today's youth as cynics who are aware that their behavior crosses boundaries but believe it is necessary to succeed.

And the findings suggest that habits formed in childhood persist: Those who cheated in high school are more likely as adults to lie to a customer, inflate an insurance or expense claim, cheat on taxes and lie to their spouses.

Among the findings: Teens 17 and younger are five times more likely than those older than 50 to believe that lying and cheating are necessary to succeed (51% vs. 10%), those in the 17 and younger group are nearly four times as likely to deceive their boss (31% vs. 8%) and three times more likely to keep change mistakenly given to them (49% vs. 15%).

More young adults ages 18 to 24 reported lying to a spouse or partner than did the 41- to 50-year-old members of their parents' generation (48% vs. 22%), more made an unauthorized copy of music or a video (69% vs. 27%) and they were more likely to have misrepresented or omitted a fact in a job interview (14% vs. 4%).

The older generation outdid its younger counterparts in one area: 69% of adults 41 to 50 and 58% of those older than 50 reported using the Internet for personal reasons at work, compared with 53% of those 18 to 24.

Today's students are also under more social and parental pressure to excel than perhaps any earlier generation, said educators. The same federal mandates and state requirements for testing that tax school systems may affect student behavior, said Jeff Sherrill, associate director of the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals.

"I cannot say for sure if the pressure to test creates pressures to cheat," Sherrill said, "but we know one reaction is a natural instinct to try to figure out how to finish ahead."

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