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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Sweet Temptation of Corruption: Understanding Corrupt Actions by Experiments in the US and Germany


The study analyzes the propensity to engage in and to punish corrupt behavior in a three-person sequential move-game played by university students in the US and Germany. The assumption is that in environments that are characterized by lower levels of corruption, there is both a lower propensity to engage in and a higher propensity to punish corrupt acts. In contrast to the assumptions, almost 70% of the Californian offered and accepted a bribe. In Germany almost 50% of the participants took the opportunity to offer and 40% accepted a bribe. I found that in both countries the probability to bribe decreases if the participants have work experiences and increases with the time the participants spent in other countries. Additionally, in Germany men have a higher propensity to bribe than women, while in California males tend to give higher bribes compared to females. In the US, 52% of the citizens punished corrupt acts, in Germany even 80%. I also found a relationship between punishment and an individual’s field of study and between the amount of bribery and gender and the wish to work in private or public sector. Moreover, men punished corrupt acts with higher amounts than women. I explain the results by cultural differences (individualism). A contribution of the paper is that it provides additional data in a U.S. and German setting, which can allows for cross-country comparison of individuals corrupt actions in future research.

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