People with this personality trait are less likely to accept bribes

SHANGHAI, China — Bribery is synonymous with corruption, with many people in positions of power getting into trouble when they “ask for favors.” Now, fascinating new research suggests those who are prone to feeling guilty may be less likely than others to accept a bribe — especially if doing so may result in obvious harm to other people.

Bribes have long been used to grease the wheels of bureaucracy and “fix” various outcomes, but this latest study is shedding some light on specific personality traits that could deter this unethical behavior. This work is just the latest in a growing body of literature on individual differences in corrupt behaviors.

“Our results have important implications for current world events, particularly in the realm of politics and governance where corruption and bribery are major concerns,” says author Prof. Xiaolin Zhou, of East China Normal University, in a media release. “More specifically, our results highlight the importance of assessing candidates’ guilt proneness in personnel selection, especially when electing a leader for a group.”

a pair of handcuffs and a roll of money on a table
Photo by Bermix Studio from Unsplash

Researchers conducted two experiments involving 2,082 college students, combining economic games with personality measures, to reach these conclusions. The first showed that being guilt-prone has a negative association with accepting bribes. The second experiment revealed a connection between people’s concerns for others and their willingness to accept a bribe. This project also drives home the potential of utilizing computational modeling to analyze moral decision-making, as well as the underlying psychological mechanisms that shape ethical behaviors.

Dr. Zhou notes that this research project was ultimately correlational rather than causal, meaning the research team cannot definitively say if being guilt-prone will reduce a person’s likelihood of engaging in corrupt behavior. The study author adds this project focused on being guilt-prone as a single personality trait and did not account for other moral-related personality traits that may influence bribery decisions.

“It would be intriguing to investigate alternative psychological mechanisms – such as responsibility, obedience, or conformity – beyond the concern for others’ suffering, that may underlie the relationship between guilt proneness and bribery,” Dr. Zhou explains.

In the meantime, study authors say they would like to see the insights from this study leveraged to deter corrupt behaviors.

“We hope that our findings can inform policies and interventions aimed at preventing corruption and promoting ethical behaviors in various domains, such as business and government,” concludes first study author Dr. Yang Hu.

The study is published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

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  1. “.. those who are prone to feeling guilty may be less likely than others to accept a bribe —”
    Wow! No shit Sherlock!

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