Take Action

Home | Faculty & Research Overview | Research

Research Details

No harm, still foul: Concerns about reputation drive dislike of harmless plagiarizers, Cognitive Science


Across a variety of situations, people strongly condemn plagiarizers who steal credit for ideas, even when the theft in question does not appear to harm anyone. Why would people react negatively to relatively harmless acts of plagiarism? In six experiments, we predict and find that these negative reactions are driven by people's aversion toward agents who attempt to falsely improve their reputations. In Studies 1–3, participants condemn plagiarism cases that they agree are harmless (i.e., stealing credit from an anonymous source). This effect is mediated by the extent to which participants perceive the plagiarizer to have falsely benefitted from plagiarizing. In Studies 4–5, we demonstrate that this effect is not explained solely by participants’ negative response to lies or violations of permission. In Study 6, participants condemn a plagiarism case in which the idea's original author actually benefits, providing the strongest evidence that people condemn plagiarism for reasons beyond perceived harm. We discuss how this work connects to broader questions of intellectual property and impression management.




Ike Silver, Alex Shaw

Date Published



Silver, Ike, and Alex Shaw. 2018. No harm, still foul: Concerns about reputation drive dislike of harmless plagiarizers. Cognitive Science.


Explore leading research and ideas

Find articles, podcast episodes, and videos that spark ideas in lifelong learners, and inspire those looking to advance in their careers.
learn more


Review Courses & Schedules

Access information about specific courses and their schedules by viewing the interactive course scheduler tool.


Discover the path to your goals

Whether you choose our Full-Time, Part-Time or Executive MBA program, you’ll enjoy the same unparalleled education, exceptional faculty and distinctive culture.
learn more