Scientific studies of corruption
NPR interviewed Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, who has been doing laboratory experiments on cheating and written a book about it:
“Across all of our experiments, we’ve tested maybe 30,000 people, and we had a dozen or so bad apples and they stole about $150 from us. And we had about 18,000 little rotten apples, each of them just stole a couple of dollars, but together it was $36,000. And if you think about it, I think it’s actually a good reflection of what happens in society.”
“We give people a sheet of paper with 20 simple math problems and we say, ‘You have 5 minutes to solve as many of those as you can, and we’ll give you $1 per question.’ We say, ‘Go!’ People start, they solve as many as they can, at the end of the five minutes, we say, ‘Stop! Please count how many questions you got correctly, and now that you know how many questions you got correctly, go to the back of the room and shred this piece of paper. And once you’ve finished shredding this piece of paper, come to the front of the room and tell me how many questions you got correctly.’
“Well, people do this, they shred, they come back, and they say they solved on average six problems, we pay them $6, they go home. What the people in the experiment don’t know is that we’ve played with the shredder, and so the shredder only shreds the sides of the page but the main body of the page remains intact. … What we find is people basically solve four and report six. … We find that lots of people cheat a little bit; very, very few people cheat a lot.
“There’s kind of two ways to think about the Broken Windows theory: one is about cost/benefit analysis and do people do it; the other one is about what … society around us tells us is acceptable and not acceptable. I actually believe in the second approach for this. So when we go around the world and we ask ourselves what behavior are we willing to engage in/what behavior we’re not, we look at other people for a gauge for what is acceptable. In our experiments, we’ve shown that if we get one person to cheat in an egregious way and other people see them, they start cheating to a higher degree. So, for me, the broken window theory is more as a social signal than fear of being caught.”