A new study has found that people’s honesty varies significantly between countries. The University of East Anglia (UEA) research also suggests that honesty is less important to a country’s current economic growth than during earlier periods in history.
The study examined whether people from different countries were more or less honest and how this related to a country’s economic development. More than 1500 participants from 15 countries took part in an online survey involving two incentivised experiments, designed to measure honest behaviour.
The countries studied — Brazil, China, Greece, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Argentina, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India, Portugal, South Africa, and South Korea — were chosen to provide a mix of regions, levels of development and levels of social trust.
Author David Hugh-Jones found evidence for dishonesty in all the countries, but that levels varied significantly across them. “Differences in honesty were found between countries, but this did not necessarily correspond to what people expected,” he said.
He noted that beliefs about honesty seem to be driven by psychological features, such as self-projection. Surprisingly, people were more pessimistic about the honesty of people in their own country than of people in other countries. One explanation for this could be that people are more exposed to news stories about dishonesty taking place in their own country than in others.
Hugh-Jones added that people’s beliefs about the honesty of their fellow citizens, and those in other countries, may or may not be accurate, and these beliefs can affect how they interact. For example, a country’s willingness to support debt bailouts may be affected by stereotypes about people in the countries needing help. So it is important to understand how these beliefs are formed.
The study has been presented at the London Experimental Workshop conference, hosted by Middlesex University London.