Case Study: The Psychology Paper

Deborah Meizlish
Center for Research on Learning and Teaching

University of Michigan


As the instructor in a psychology class, you are grading papers when you notice that one of your students has turned in a paper that includes a lengthy section of highly scholarly material without any citations (and with a few grammatical errors).

Sample paragraph - student’s paper:

There are much to be learned about the relationship between the expectatons of teenage moms and child development outcomes.  Often times, teenage mothers are less knowledgeable about normal infant development than are adult mothers.  Teenage mothers are also less acurate in predicting their own infants’ behavior than are adult mothers.  This suggests that tenage mothers are less cognitively prepared for parenting than are older mothers and that lower knowledge about infant development in general leads to deficient knowledge about their own infants.

You subsequently confirm that the original source for this information is:

Original source:  Karraker, K. & S. Evans. (1996). Adolescent mothers' knowledge of child development and expectations for their own infants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.  25:11.

“Consistent with most previous research on adolescents' knowledge about child development (see review in Whitman et al., 1987), the adolescent mothers in this study were less knowledgeable about normal infant development than were the adult mothers. The adolescent mothers also were less accurate in predicting their own infants' behavior than were the adult mothers. These findings support Sommer et al.'s (1993) hypothesis that adolescent mothers are less cognitively prepared for parenting than are older mothers, and suggest the possibility that less accurate knowledge about general infant development relates to deficient knowledge about mothers' own infants.”

You ask her to come to office hours to discuss the paper.  During your meeting, the student admits to using the source but insists that she had no intention of stealing the material, and she points to the inclusion of the source in her bibliography as evidence.  This student, a recent immigrant to the United States, has never been accused of wrongdoing before.  She did good work in an introductory class you taught last semester.  You view her as a promising student with a bright future. 


Questions for Discussion:

1. Is this a case of plagiarism? Why or Why Not?
      a. What other information would you want?
      b. What other information would you be willing to take into account?
2. Could this have been prevented?  How?
3. What should be done? 

Liberally adapted from:

“Case Study: The Student and the Source.”  Developed by Sharon Staples, professor of Humanities/Philosophy, Utah Valley State College.  Original Source taken from

Page maintained by Doreen Bradley
Last modified: 05/17/2011