Study: Cheaters Love Public Service

How It Works
Nov. 18 2013 5:10 PM

Students Who Cheat Are Attracted to Politics    

A dispiriting result from a study of 669 Indian university seniors by Rema Hanna of Harvard and Shing-Yi Wang of the University of Pennsylvania:

In this paper, we demonstrate that university students who cheat on a simple task in a laboratory setting are more likely to state a preference for entering public service. Importantly, we also show that cheating on this task is predictive of corrupt behavior by real government workers, implying that this measure captures a meaningful propensity towards corruption. Students who demonstrate lower levels of prosocial preferences in the laboratory games are also more likely to prefer to enter the government, while outcomes on explicit, two-player games to measure cheating and attitudinal measures of corruption do not systematically predict job preferences. We find that a screening process that chooses the highest ability applicants would not alter the average propensity for corruption among the applicant pool.  Our findings imply that differential selection into government may contribute, in part, to corruption.  They also emphasize that screening characteristics other than ability may be useful in reducing corruption, but caution that more explicit measures may offer little predictive power.
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It doubt this correlation is unique to India, but it would be interesting to see how it varies from country to country and whether it fluctuates with the level of actual observed corruption in a particular place.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. Follow him on Twitter.