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The Psychology of Plagiarism
Unformatted Document Text:  discovery, Newsweek quoted a psychiatrist who interpreted plagiarism as “a desperate attempt to salvage self-esteem” 9 Thomas Mallon, who wrote about literary plagiarism in Stolen Words, 10 said, “You cannot escape the conclusion there’s a psychological element to it.” 11 Neal Bowers, who wrote a book about his search for the person plagiarizing his poetry, observed, “But what plagiarist is entirely mentally healthy?” 12 Although the psychology hypothesis has been often stated, it has never been tested, perhaps because journalistic plagiarism is rarely seen as an ethical issue worth much study. A 2011 media ethics textbook declared that serious plagiarism cases such as Jayson Blair are “so egregious that some media ethicists don’t find them philosophically interesting.” 13 In its 26-year history, the Journal of Mass Media Ethics has published only one article focused on plagiarism, an essay by an undergraduate student that won the 1989 Carol Burnett prize. 14 Plagiarism is so widely condemned that a researcher measuring whether being prompted to think about death would affect the ethical position of journalism students threw out a question about plagiarism because almost every respondent scored it as unacceptable. 15 Professionals don’t give it much more attention, either; the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists dismisses the offense in two words: “Never plagiarize.” 16 Yet as the Washington Post ombudsman noted in writing about a Pulitzer-Prize winner who inexplicably plagiarized, the offense matters because it undermines public confidence in journalism. 17 Therefore, exploring the psychology of plagiarism can fill a gap in the academic literature and be useful to professionals. This study will begin with a well-regarded measure of personality to search for differences between those who admit to plagiarism and those who do not. Because professional journalism plagiarism is relatively rare – an

Authors: Lewis, Norman. and Zhong, Bu.
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discovery, Newsweek quoted a psychiatrist who interpreted plagiarism as “a desperate 
attempt to salvage self-esteem
 Thomas Mallon, who wrote about literary plagiarism in 
Stolen Words,
 said, “You cannot escape the conclusion there’s a psychological element 
to it.”
 Neal Bowers, who wrote a book about his search for the person plagiarizing his 
poetry, observed, “But what plagiarist is entirely mentally healthy?
Although the psychology hypothesis has been often stated, it has never been 
tested, perhaps because journalistic plagiarism is rarely seen as an ethical issue worth 
much study. A 2011 media ethics textbook declared that serious plagiarism cases such as 
Jayson Blair are “so egregious that some media ethicists don’t find them philosophically 
interesting.
 In its 26-year history, the Journal of Mass Media Ethics has published only 
one article focused on plagiarism, an essay by an undergraduate student that won the 
1989 Carol Burnett prize.
 Plagiarism is so widely condemned that a researcher 
measuring whether being prompted to think about death would affect the ethical position 
of journalism students threw out a question about plagiarism because almost every 
respondent scored it as unacceptable.
 Professionals don’t give it much more attention, 
either; the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists dismisses the offense in 
two words: “Never plagiarize.”
 Yet as the Washington Post ombudsman noted in 
writing about a Pulitzer-Prize winner who inexplicably plagiarized, the offense matters 
because it undermines public confidence in journalism.
Therefore, exploring the psychology of plagiarism can fill a gap in the academic 
literature and be useful to professionals. This study will begin with a well-regarded 
measure of personality to search for differences between those who admit to plagiarism 
and those who do not. Because professional journalism plagiarism is relatively rare – an 


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