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Corruption is facilitated by biased beliefs about bribery in certain countries, study finds.


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A new study shows that expecting to accept a bribe leads to more bribery attempts. However, in the experiment, the actual corruption of officials of certain nationalities did not match the expectations of those giving bribes. Effectively combating biases can reduce corruption, the researchers urge.

Whether or not people bribe – or attempt to bribe – others depends on which country the counterparty comes from. And the nationality of the briber, in turn, hardly matters. This was the result of a study conducted with the participation of three researchers at the University of Cologne: Prof. Dr. Bernd Erlenbusch, member of the ECONtribute Excellence Group, Prof. Dr. Andreas Glockner and Dr. Angela Rachel Dorow as well as scientists at the University of Amsterdam and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

With increasing globalization, more and more people are interacting across national boundaries. To date, however, behavioral research has mainly focused on corruption within individual countries. Erlenbusch and his team explored corruption in a tightly controlled international environment in a large-scale experiment. As part of the study, nearly 6,500 people from 18 countries participated online in a game of bribery. They took on the roles of citizens and officials, while retaining their actual nationalities. Citizens had to decide whether to buy a license through official channels or bribe officials in order to get the license at a lower price and get more money at the end of the experiment. Officials can either accept or decline the bribe.

In total, citizens had to decide 18 times whether or not to bribe — once for each country in the sample. They were then asked to estimate how likely the officials were to accept the bribe. If the assessment was largely correct, they received a reward. In another step, the participants switched roles. The study also looked at the damage that corruption causes within societies: For every successful bribe, the researchers actually donated less money to an NGO working to combat climate change.

It turned out that citizens from all countries offered higher-than-average bribes to officials from countries known for corruption. Indian officials, for example, were twice as likely to take bribes than Canadian officials. “Our study shows that the nationality of the interaction partner and the expectations it raises have a greater influence on bribe-taking than the nationality of the individual,” said Bernd Erlenbusch.

However, participants tended to overestimate or underestimate acceptance rates: officials from countries notoriously corrupt were less likely to accept bribes than people expected. At the same time, the Citizens underestimated the number of times officials from countries without a reputation for corruption accepted money. For example, on average, participants expected 42% of US citizens to accept bribes in their roles as public officials, when in fact they were successfully bribed 56% of the time. Among Russian officials in the game, the approval rate of 33% was much lower than the expected 47%.

The results show the pattern of human behavior. “People often base their behavior on what they expect others to do,” Erlenbusch added. He concluded that efforts to overcome bias towards certain countries can contribute to combating corruption around the world.

more information:
Conditional Bribery: Insights from Motivational Experiences Across 18 Countries, Angela Rachel Durov et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209731120

Provided by the University of Cologne

the quote: Study finds that prejudices about bribery in some countries facilitate corruption (2023, April 26) Retrieved April 26, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-biases-bribery-countries-corruption.html

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