Case Study

Re-thinking Stereotypes around Liars’ Origin Countries


Are certain individuals more likely to lie based on where they are from? To what extent is there variation between countries in the amount of dishonesty?


We predicted that there would be differences in levels of dishonesty between countries. Specifically, we believed that in countries where corruption is high, dishonesty would be viewed as more acceptable.

In our experiment, participants in several different countries (with varying levels of corruption) were given a dice-rolling task. They would roll the dice digitally on an iPad. The participants were provided with an opportunity and a financial incentive to cheat. Participants rolled a die and were paid based on the number of dots they rolled. At the beginning, participants were instructed to choose either the top or bottom of the die before rolling without revealing their choice to anyone else. When participants “rolled” the die, they saw an image displaying both the top/bottom and the side they had chosen. Thus, on any roll where the participant originally decided to select the unfavorable side, they had the opportunity to cheat and claim to have originally chosen the higher value side. While it was not possible to tell if any individual participant was lying, it was possible to determine the statistical likelihood of dishonesty across the whole sample. Since the sample size was large enough, an honest sample would choose the favorable side about 50% of the time. By comparing the observed portion of reported favorable rolls with the “expected” 50%, we obtained an estimate of how honest subjects were in each country.


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.


Why it matters

At a policy level, these findings suggest that programs aimed at promoting general morality are unlikely to have lasting efficacy. Instead, programs aimed at establishing honesty norms for specific behaviors may be more effective.