Hidden Brain Puzzle # 37: Corruption tied to “collective responsibility” ethic

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Corruption is more likely in countries where people have a “collective responsibility” ethic as opposed to an individualistic ethic, according to new research.

Poverty matters too — poor countries are likely to see more corruption than rich countries — but this squares with common sense. I can more easily imagine a cop in a poor country taking a bribe (when he may have had to pay a bribe to get his job in the first place) than in a country where cops make a living wage.

The new research looked at both correlational and causational evidence. Countries where business executives expressed greater levels of pride in collective enterprises — workplaces, communities, family etc — were also countries where more corruption is documented.

In an interesting laboratory experiment, researchers Nina Mazar and Pankaj Aggarwal at the University of Toronto found that volunteers who were unconsciously primed to prize collective responsibility as opposed to individual responsibility were more likely to say they would offer a bribe to win a contract that would provide them with a lucrative commission. These volunteers felt less accountable for their corruption.

In a puzzle posted on The Hidden Brain’s facebook page, I asked:

Bribery is more likely in countries where
A) Individualism is prized (we’re all on our own)
B) Shared responsibility is prized (we’re in this together)
C) Individualism and shared responsibility are both prized
D) None of the above

The correct answer is B.

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