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Financial Temptation Increases Civic Honesty

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Financial Temptation Increases Civic Honesty

Altruism and self-image, not selfishness, drive surprising findings


5 min read
3 take-aways
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What's inside?

Faced with temptation, humans are more honest than you might expect. 

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  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


Are humans naturally inclined to be altruistic or selfish? It’s an age-old question that modern researchers are now trying to answer with scientific methods. Shaul Shalvi writes about a new field experiment on human honesty whose results came as a positive surprise to both economists and laypeople. His article is one you will remember long after reading it – and especially if, sometime in the future, you find yourself debating what to do with that cash-filled wallet you found on the street on your way to work. 


Lab experiments testing human honesty mimic people’s real-life behavior fairly well.

For behavioral economists, studying human honesty is tricky. In particular, scientists have been questioning whether people act the same way in everyday situations as they do in artificial lab settings. Yet a recent experiment has shown that lab experiments provide a remarkably accurate glimpse into human honesty. In one experiment, people in different countries repeatedly rolled a die and then had to self-report the numbers. The higher the numbers, the higher the reward they received. Most participants inflated the numbers by a little bit, but not by too much. This disproves traditional economic theory that humans are only motivated to maximize their material gain. Instead, participants also seemed to care about maintaining a positive self-image.


About the Author

Shaul Shalvi is professor of psychology at the Department of Experimental and Political Economics at the University of Amsterdam.

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