An Honest Dissertation: Exploring the Roles of Culture and Character in Shaping Individual Dishonesty
The question of what leads an individual to act dishonestly interests researchers, policy-makers, and lay-people alike. While a growing body of research suggests that dishonest behavior is typically limited, and reflects a balance of internal and external incentives, important questions remain unanswered. To what extent is honest behavior guided by stable, internal factors (i.e. moral character), and to what extent is it shaped by situational factors? This question is the subject of continuing and recently revived debate. To what extent do socio-cultural factors impact dishonesty, and to what extent is dishonesty universal? Casual observation suggests significant cross-cultural variation in terms of specific dishonest behaviors (e.g. soliciting bribes), but this source of variation has received little research attention. In five related research chapters encompassing three studies, I explore questions about character and culture using empirical research methods. Using a behavioral die task, I find similar patterns of dishonest behavior across individuals from different countries, though within-country differences are also observed. Using survey data, I find that internal sanctions are the most important deterrent of dishonesty across cultures. In addition, I find that that specific dishonest behaviors vary across cultures, and according to domains. Domain-specific dishonesty and socio-cultural influences are also evident in a study involving socially connected pairs of individuals. I conclude that dishonest tendencies may be best characterized as both universal and culturally sensitive. Furthermore, moral character may be construed as a multidimensional construct, expressed differently across different domains of life.
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