Socialism and Lying

BE cap socThe Economist wrote a piece about a group of behavioural economists, including Dan Ariely, that recently ran an experiment to test Germans’ willingness to lie for personal gain. 250 Berliners were randomly selected to take part in a game where they could win up to US$8. The game rules were as follows:

Each person to throw a die 40 times and record each roll – a higher total = bigger payoff
Before each roll the person had to write down the number on either the top or the bottom side of the die.

However, they did not have to tell anyone which side they had chosen, which made it easy to cheat by rolling the die first and then pretending that they had selected the side with the highest number. If they picked the top and then rolled a two, for example, they would have an incentive to claim—falsely—that they had chosen the bottom, which would be a five.

Honest participants would be expected to roll ones, twos and threes as often as fours, fives and sixes. But that did not happen: the sheets handed in had a suspiciously large share of high numbers, suggesting many players had cheated.

After finishing the game, the players had to fill in a form that asked their age and the part of Germany where they had lived in different decades. The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers of high rolls.

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