The participants took part in an online survey involving two incentivised experiments, designed to measure honest behaviour.
Firstly, they were asked to flip a coin and state whether it landed on “heads” or “tails”. They knew if they reported that it landed on heads, they would be rewarded with $3 or $5. If the proportion reporting heads was more than 50 percent in a given country, this indicated that people were being dishonest. The same participants were then asked to complete a quiz where they were again rewarded financially if they answered all questions correctly. Data from the tests was compared to estimate whether people from particular countries were more likely to tell the truth.
The countries studied Brazil, China, Greece, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Argentina, Denmark, the United Kingdom, India, Portugal, South Africa, and South Korea were chosen to provide a mix of regions, levels of development and levels of social trust. For example, estimated dishonesty in the coin flip ranged from 3.4 percent in Britain to 70 percent in China.
In the quiz, respondents in Japan were the most honest, followed by Britain, while those in Turkey were the least truthful.
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,” noted Dr Hugh-Jones, senior lecturer in economics. Dr Hugh-Jones said there was increasing interest in the cultural and behavioral roots of economic development. He found that while the honesty of countries related to their economic growth poor countries were less honest than rich ones this relationship was stronger for growth that took place before 1950. "I suggest that the relationship between honesty and economic growth has been weaker over the past 60 years and there is little evidence for a link between current growth and honesty," Dr Hugh-Jones pointed out. Dr Hugh-Jones presented the findings at the London Experimental Workshop conference, hosted by Middlesex University London, on Sunday.