I study adolescents’ and young adults’ moral development and decision-making in everyday contexts. My interests center on what I refer to as “moral exceptions”: people’s deviations from their general principles. Why do youth and adults sometimes act against their better judgments, doing things they know to be wrong? My main research examines a common and consequential instantiation of this classic problem: academic cheating. Most students cheat during their academic careers, even though most students also think that cheating is wrong. Using naturalistic observations, surveys, interviews, records analyses, and behavioral tasks, my research explores how students’ perceptions, evaluations, and decisions lead them to avoid cheating in most situations, but also to make occasional exceptions to the general rule.

ORCiDOpen Science FrameworkUCSC directory

Selected works

Here are a few examples to give you a sense of the sort of research I do. For a complete listing, check out my CV.

Waltzer, T., & Dahl, A. (2021). Students’ perceptions and evaluations of plagiarism: Effects of text and context. Journal of Moral Education, 50(4), 436-451. [PDF] [SOM] [OSF]

Waltzer, T., Samuelson, A., & Dahl, A. (2021). Students’ reasoning about whether to report when others cheat: Conflict, confusion, and consequences. Journal of Academic Ethics. [PDF] [SOM] [OSF]

Waltzer, T., Baxley, C., & Dahl, A. (2019). Adults’ responses to young children’s transgressions: A new method for understanding everyday social interactions. Early Child Development and Care. [PDF] [SOM] [OSF]

Kloos, H., Baker, H., & Waltzer, T. (2019). A mind with a mind of its own: How complexity theory can inform early science pedagogy. Educational Psychology Review, 31, 735-752. [PDF]

Dahl, A., & Waltzer, T. (2018). Moral disengagement as a psychological construct. American Journal of Psychology, 131, 240-246. [PDF] [Reply]

For a more visual illustration of my research, see below for some examples of talks and posters I have presented.

5-minute talk for broader audiences

15-minute talk for academic conference

Narrowing the judgment-action gap, SPP 2019

Observations of classroom discussions, APS 2018


At the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), I lead the Academic Orientations Project (AOP). Our team studies how students and instructors reason and make decisions about academic cheating. We also partner with several organizations at UCSC to inform efforts to promote integrity at our school and beyond. Our project is a part of the Developmental Moral Psychology Lab (DMPL), supervised by Dr. Audun Dahl.

At the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the University of Toronto, I work with Dr. Gail Heyman and Dr. Kang Lee to study social influences on adolescents' evaluations of, and engagement in, dishonesty. I lead the Honesty & Ethics Research On Everyday Schooling (HEROES) Project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Research Fellowship program. I also collaborate with Dr. Adam Aron to study people's reasoning and decisions about climate change.

At the University of Cincinnati, I have worked with Dr. Heidi Kloos and the Children's Cognitive Research Lab (CCRL) to examine how children and adults form beliefs about science, with a particular focus on the difficulties and errors that can arise. I first joined the lab as an NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates fellow.

At Rutgers University, I studied moral cognition in children and adults with the Cognitive Development Lab, supervised by Dr. Alan Leslie and Dr. Sydney Levine. I also studied children's conceptions of time with the Human Development Lab, supervised by Dr. Judith Hudson and Dr. Estelle Mayhew.