"It's Not My Fault": Using Neutralization Theory to Understand Cheating by Middle School Students

  • Nicole Alisa Zito Boston College
  • Patrick J McQuillan Boston College
Keywords: Cheating, Neutralization Theory, Middle School Students, Teacher relationships, Assignments


According to neutralization theory, to justify unethical behavior delinquents often embrace strategies that deflect personal responsibility for their actions from them and toward other persons or contextual factors outside their control. Drawing on neutralization theory, this case study explores how middle school students endorsed comparable strategies to justify cheating. Participants included six faculty members from an 8th grade teaching team and eight of their students at a competitive, private middle school in Northeastern Massachusetts. Based on interview and focus group data, we found that students adopted three of the five neutralizing strategies to rationalize what might be seen as unethical behavior: (1) denying responsibility; (2) condemning the condemner; and (3) appealing to higher ideals. Specific recommendations for schools include promoting supportive student-teacher relations and creating an academic environment in which students value course work for its inherent value, rather than solely as a means to gain admission to an elite high school.

Author Biography

Nicole Alisa Zito, Boston College
K-12 School Administration Teaching Fellow
How to Cite
Zito, N., & McQuillan, P. (2010). "It’s Not My Fault": Using Neutralization Theory to Understand Cheating by Middle School Students. Current Issues in Education, 13(3). Retrieved from https://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/190