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Science. 2019 Jul 5;365(6448):70-73. doi: 10.1126/science.aau8712. Epub 2019 Jun 20.

Civic honesty around the globe.

Author information

1
School of Information, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. adcohn@umich.edu michel.marechal@econ.uzh.ch.
2
Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. adcohn@umich.edu michel.marechal@econ.uzh.ch.
3
Department of Management, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
4
Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract

Civic honesty is essential to social capital and economic development but is often in conflict with material self-interest. We examine the trade-off between honesty and self-interest using field experiments in 355 cities spanning 40 countries around the globe. In these experiments, we turned in more than 17,000 lost wallets containing varying amounts of money at public and private institutions and measured whether recipients contacted the owners to return the wallets. In virtually all countries, citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Neither nonexperts nor professional economists were able to predict this result. Additional data suggest that our main findings can be explained by a combination of altruistic concerns and an aversion to viewing oneself as a thief, both of which increase with the material benefits of dishonesty.

PMID:
31221770
DOI:
10.1126/science.aau8712

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