Civic Honesty Around the Globe

  • Date: Dec 12, 2018
  • Time: 10:00 AM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Michel Maréchal
  • University of Zurich
  • Location: MPI
  • Room: Ground Floor

Civic honesty is essential for economic development and prosperity. While beneficial to society, honest behavior is typically in direct conflict with material self-interest. Here we use large-scale field experiments to examine this fundamental trade-off and provide a global data set on honest behavior. We turned in more than 17,000 lost wallets with varying amounts of money at public and private institutions in 355 cities across 40 countries. We find that, on average, people are more likely to return wallets when they face a stronger incentive to steal. Although there are substantial differences in civic honesty across countries, the likelihood of returning a wallet is significantly higher in the majority of countries when the wallet contains more money. This phenomenon appears to be a global human tendency that holds across a range of public and private institutions, and prevails even under high-stake conditions with almost US $100 in the wallet. Additional evidence suggests that a combination of altruism and moral cost of stealing is a plausible mechanism for this finding. In particular, the results indicate that people not only consider what is right or wrong, but that their moral considerations are inherently linked to the material benefits of dishonesty.

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