Recent financial scandals highlight the devastating consequences of corruption. While much is known about individual immoral behavior, little is known about the collaborative roots of corruption. In a novel experimental paradigm, people could adhere to one of two competing moral norms: collaborate vs. be honest. Whereas collaborative settings may boost honesty due to increased observability, accountability, and reluctance to force others to become accomplices, we show that collaboration, particularly on equal terms, is inductive to the emergence of corruption. When partners' profits are not aligned, or when individuals complete a comparable task alone, corruption levels drop. These findings reveal a dark side of collaboration, suggesting that human cooperative tendencies, and not merely greed, take part in shaping corruption.Abstract
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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