Cultural authority 

By Karen Herland

It turns out that how to correctly research, cite and present references in a paper is not necessarily universal.

Andrew Ryder’s Culture, Health and Personality Lab in the Psychology Department studies various questions through the lens of cultural differences. He has just completed a study that demonstrates that students from different cultural communities have learned different expectations around properly presenting and citing sources. Those differences have implications for how information about academic integrity can be more effectively presented to students.

Andrew Ryder and grad student Donald Watanabe, of Ryder’s Culture, Health and Personality Lab presented research findings on the cultural differences in research presentation. Magnifying glass

Andrew Ryder and grad student Donald Watanabe, of Ryder’s Culture, Health and Personality Lab presented research findings on the cultural differences in research presentation.

Ryder undertook the research after being approached by Ivonne Lachapelle. Her experiences in the CSU Student Advocacy office had led her to suspect that plagiarism was not a concept that was easily recognized, especially cross-culturally.

“The issue is not that international students are cheaters, or that international students are lazy, “ said Lachapelle, who came here from the Dominican Republic six years ago and is studying psychology. At the Advocacy office, she met many students charged with plagiarism who were confused because their violations actually represented good practices in their own countries.

“Many international students arrive here never having written a research paper. If their teachers ask them to research a topic, they will simply report the results of their research, along with a final list of sources. Their teachers do not expect them to put that information in their own words.”

So an A+ effort elsewhere is seen here as an uncited reference, and grounds for a plagiarism charge. Lachapelle said that was true in the Dominican Republic. However, since she attended an American high school there, she became familiar with “paraphrasing and MLA style.”

“Plagiarism is an ambiguous concept,” said Ryder during a presentation of his findings organized for interested administrators from all four faculties organized by the CSU. “Intellectual property is not concrete.”

Lachapelle asked Ryder to help her develop a study to test her hypothesis. Ryder combined his lab’s resources with Lachapelle’s suspicions and the technical survey knowledge of Donald Watanabe, a grad student.

The result was a pilot research project involving 83 students. In addition to Euro-Canadians, Chinese and Arab students were recruited, since these represent the two largest groups of international students on campus. The participants were presented with a series of seven scenarios and asked to determine if academic integrity had been violated.

The students were then shown the university’s definition of plagiarism: presentation of the work of another person as one’s own, or without proper acknowledgment. They then had the opportunity to revise their initial reactions if they wanted to.

Ryder pointed out that Euro-Canadian students also had difficulty identifying plagiarism in the scenarios he presented. But students who identified as Chinese or Arab had consistently more difficulty across the board. They were often more likely to forgive certain kinds of behaviour as “errors” instead of outright plagiarism.

Ryder suspects that some of the difference in perception may be due to the value placed on authorship and authority in some cultures. Paraphrasing makes little sense if you believe that the original author said it best and that it would be presumptuous to say the same thing in your own words.

Ryder would like to take the study further, looking at other ethnocultural groups and other aspects of cultural values and academic adjustment that may also affect the perception of plagiarism.

In the meantime, the academic integrity campaign is helping to ensure that all students are aware of what constitutes plagiarism. Targeted intervention, like workshops that demonstrate how to paraphrase correctly, might also be useful.


Concordia University