Hocus Focus

Eyes peek through magical glowing hands

Can you stop cheaters… with magic?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

When exam time comes down, cheaters abound! Teachers might sit students far apart or banish book bags to a corner of the room. But are physical barriers really the only way?

Professor Gail Heyman at UC San Diego and her team have a different idea. They say that teachers just need to change how students THINK about the classroom. By their logic, even IMAGINARY barriers will stop cheaters.

To test this, they recruited hundreds of first-graders at a school in China. Each child took a five-minute math test. Their teacher left them alone with an answer key nearby. To guard the key, the teacher sometimes drew an imaginary barrier with a wand. Really, a hidden camera kept watch.

Results? The magic barrier cut cheating rates in HALF! Students who saw the magic wall go up were less likely to peek. Turns out, how grade schoolers view a room changes how they act inside it.

So teachers — just say hocus….FOCUS!

Reference: Zhao, L., et al. (2020). The moral barrier effect: Real and imagined barriers can reduce cheating. PNAS, 117(32).