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The Psychology of Plagiarism
Unformatted Document Text:  “Why did I do it? What was I thinking?” asked an Everett, Washington, sports reporter, John Sleeper, upon being fired for plagiarizing from Sports Illustrated in 2008. “I hope therapy will help me understand.” 1 Sleeper wasn’t the first to be baffled by plagiarism and wonder if a mental or psychological failing contributed. In a 2000 piece searching for answers to why journalists plagiarize, Editor & Publisher consulted a dozen psychologists. None could offer insight. A Purdue University psychology professor cited as a national expert on ethics, Stuart Offenbach, said he could offer little to explain the roots of plagiarism “because I don’t understand them.” 2 Three of seven explanations a journalism critic suggested to explain why plagiarism occurs were appeals to psychology. 3 When a Boston Globe writer examined plagiarism, he interviewed a psychotherapist, a psychiatrist and a therapist. 4 Los Angeles Times media reporter David Shaw, who wrote a two-part look at journalistic plagiarism in 1984, speculated that “many plagiarists almost seem to want to get caught, for whatever deep-seated psychological reason,” 5 a view endorsed by journalism professor Philip Meyer in a 2001 interview. 6 The informal psychology hypothesis of plagiarism is shared in literary writing. In 1911, William Dean Howells wrote a chapter on “The Psychology of Plagiarism,” arguing that the offense is more complicated than simple theft because offenders, knowing they are likely to be caught, must have “a strange and peculiar courage.” 7 When Martin Amis discovered that another writer had copied 53 parts of his novel, he wrote that the “psychology of plagiarism is fascinatingly perverse: it risks, or invites, a deep shame, and there must be something of the death-wish in it.” 8 In writing about Amis’

Authors: Lewis, Norman. and Zhong, Bu.
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“Why did I do it? What was I thinking?” asked an Everett, Washington, sports 
reporter, John Sleeper, upon being fired for plagiarizing from Sports Illustrated in 2008. 
“I hope therapy will help me understand.”
 Sleeper wasn’t the first to be baffled by 
plagiarism and wonder if a mental or psychological failing contributed. In a 2000 piece 
searching for answers to why journalists plagiarize, Editor & Publisher consulted a dozen 
psychologists. None could offer insight. A Purdue University psychology professor cited 
as a national expert on ethics, Stuart Offenbach, said he could offer little to explain the 
roots of plagiarism “because I don’t understand them.”
 Three of seven explanations a 
journalism critic suggested to explain why plagiarism occurs were appeals to 
psychology.
 When a Boston Globe writer examined plagiarism, he interviewed a 
psychotherapist, a psychiatrist and a therapist.
 Los Angeles Times media reporter David 
Shaw, who wrote a two-part look at journalistic plagiarism in 1984, speculated that 
“many plagiarists almost seem to want to get caught, for whatever deep-seated 
psychological reason,”
 a view endorsed by journalism professor Philip Meyer in a 2001 
interview.
The informal psychology hypothesis of plagiarism is shared in literary writing. In 
1911, William Dean Howells wrote a chapter on “The Psychology of Plagiarism,” 
arguing that the offense is more complicated than simple theft because offenders, 
knowing they are likely to be caught, must have “a strange and peculiar courage.”
 When 
Martin Amis discovered that another writer had copied 53 parts of his novel, he wrote 
that the “psychology of plagiarism is fascinatingly perverse: it risks, or invites, a deep 
shame, and there must be something of the death-wish in it.”
 In writing about Amis’ 


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