Students who have an exaggerated belief they have "a right to success" are more likely to struggle come exam time, a University of Otago study shows.
The study, which examined the entitlement beliefs of almost 300 students sitting a marketing and consumption paper, found that those with "excessive entitlement" were less likely to put in the effort required to do well in their studies.
The authors quoted a number of academics who believed "excessive entitlement" was on the rise among tertiary students, but no other studies had looked at how it affected performance.
The results showed that students with a greater perception of personal entitlement performed worse than their peers in the final exam, but only when they found the paper more difficult than expected.
The study comes amid a focus on cheating, with two Otago University students admitting ghost-writing assignments and an alleged commercial cheating service under investigation, and author Professor Jamin Halberstadt said it was not too much of a stretch to say that students with high levels of entitlement could also be more likely to cheat.
"I don't have any evidence for that, but you could imagine how cheating could be rationalised from an entitlement perspective," Prof Halberstadt said
People who felt they were entitled to a pass could view cheating as a "practical means" of getting what they believed they deserved, rather than being something that was immoral.
The suggestion that "excessive entitlement" was on the rise was based on anecdotal evidence collected by researchers and there was no data on the issue.
However, he believed rising student fees and the "commodification" of tertiary education meant more students felt they were entitled to a pass, having paid for their studies.
Lead author Dr Donna Anderson said it was "interesting, but not surprising, that the negative effect of excessive entitlement on performance was most evident in the context of a challenge".
Other factors that predicted exam performance in the study were personal responsibility and internal motivation.
The study provided practical advice for improving learning outcomes, Dr Anderson said.
"Entitlement attitudes can be altered by shifting students' beliefs about what they can legitimately expect from their learning institutions, and what they need to expect from themselves," she said.
The study was funded by Otago University and had been published in the International Journal of Higher Education.