The collaborative roots of corruption
Weisel, Ori and Shalvi, Shaul (2015) The collaborative roots of corruption. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112 (34). pp. 10651-10656. ISSN 1091-6490
Official URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/112/34/10651
Cooperation is essential for completing tasks that individuals cannot accomplish alone. Whereas the benefits of cooperation are clear, little is known about its possible negative aspects. Introducing a novel sequential dyadic die-rolling paradigm, we show that collaborative settings provide fertile ground for the emergence of corruption. In the main experimental treatment the outcomes of the two players are perfectly aligned. Player A privately rolls a die, reports the result to player B, who then privately rolls and reports the result as well. Both players are paid the value of the reports if, and only if, they are identical (e.g., if both report 6, each earns €6). Because rolls are truly private, players can inflate their profit by misreporting the actual outcomes. Indeed, the proportion of reported doubles was 489 higher than the expected proportion assuming honesty, 48 higher than when individuals rolled and reported alone, and 96 higher than when lies only benefited the other player. Breaking the alignment in payoffs between player A and player B reduced the extent of brazen lying. Despite player B's central role in determining whether a double was reported, modifying the incentive structure of either player A or player B had nearly identical effects on the frequency of reported doubles. Our results highlight the role of collaboration—particularly on equal terms—in shaping corruption. These findings fit a functional perspective on morality. When facing opposing moral sentiments—to be honest vs. to join forces in collaboration—people often opt for engaging in corrupt collaboration.
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