Chinese people were found to be the most dishonest and British people the least dishonest in a new study on truthfulness involving several countries.
A researcher from the University of East Anglia recruited more than 1,500 people from 15 countries to take an online survey involving two experiments designed to measure honesty to determine whether the trait varied between countries.
The study’s author, Dr. David Hugh-Jones, surveyed countries that varied in regions, development levels and social trust levels: Brazil, China, Greece, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Argentina, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India, Portugal, South Africa, and South Korea.
In the first experiment, participants were asked to flip a coin and report whether it had landed on “heads” or “tails.” They were told that their coin landing on heads would net them a $3 or $5 reward. If the amount of people in any given country reporting heads was more than 50%, dishonesty was indicated.
Seventy percent of the participants from China lied landed, while only 3.4% of British participants did the same. The four least truthful countries were in Asia — China, Japan, South Korea and India.
For the second experiment, the respondents were asked to complete a music quiz to which they would also be financially rewarded if they got all the answers right. They were told not to search the internet for help and had to check a box after each question confirming their answers were their own. Three of the questions, however, were chosen for their extremely difficulty so that correct answers would most likely have been looked up.
Japanese participants were found to be most honest in their answers to the quiz, with those in Britain found to be the next most truthful. Turkey was found to be the most deceitful in their answers, with China following behind.
“Differences in honesty were found between countries, but this did not necessarily correspond to what people expected,” Dr. Hugh-Jones says. “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.”
Asked to rate which country they thought would be the most dishonest in their coin flip answers, participants chose Greece, which was one of the most honest in their answers to the test. All the countries, regardless of their measured honesty, were found to expect others to be less dishonest.
According to Dr. Hugh-Jones, the difference between Asian and other countries in their coin flip answers may have to do more with culture, such as gambling attitudes, than differences in honesty.
“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,” he says. “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.”