Case Studies


Question: We know that dishonesty is seen in societies across the world, but to what extent is there variation between countries in individuals’ core tendencies towards dishonesty? This research tested whether country affects dishonesty on an abstract, novel task.

Hypothesis: We predicted that there would be variance in tendencies towards dishonesty across different countries. We believed that countries where corruption is high would have a greater norm of dishonesty being acceptable.

Experiment: Participants (both from student bodies and from the general public) in several different countries with varying levels of corruption were given a digital dice rolling task on an iPad with a financial incentive to cheat. Participants were instructed to mentally choose either the top or bottom of the die before rolling. Participants rolled the die, viewed the top and bottom displayed on the iPad, and indicated which side they chose (knowing that payment was proportional to the number of dots on the chosen side). Thus, on any roll where the unfavorable side is initially chosen, participants could cheat by claiming to have chosen the higher earning side. While it was not possible to tell if any individual participant was lying, it was possible to determine the statistical likelihood of dishonesty in the sample. Because participants repeated this task over 20 trials and because the data was aggregated across over 200 subjects in each country, by comparing the average proportion of favorable rolls with what would be expected by chance (given that an honest sample should choose the favorable side 50% of the time), we were able to determine how honest subjects likely were in each country.

Results: For all 10 participant samples, the mean proportion of favorable reports on the die task was significantly above chance. However, our results suggest that country-level cultural variables have limited influence on generalized dishonesty.

The mean proportion of favorable reports on the dice task was significantly above chance in all of the samples. For example, the distribution of outcomes in American students is shown below.


However, our results suggest that country-level cultural variables have limited influence on generalized dishonesty, as shown in the graph below by the similar results across countries.  


Application: At a policy level, these findings suggest that programs aimed at promoting general morality are unlikely to have lasting effectiveness. Instead, programs aimed at establishing honesty norms for specific behaviors may be more effective. While culture may influence norms for dishonesty in specific situations, it seems it has limited impact on generalized dishonesty.