How can guilt help fight corruption?

Corruption is one of the most serious problems found in all countries, undermining democratic institutions, slowing economic development, distorting electoral processes and violating the rule of law. But what personality traits can prevent such behavior?

A new study by researchers from the School of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences at East China Normal University in Shanghai and the Institute of Psychology and Brain Sciences at Zhejiang Normal University in China found that a tendency to feel guilt and concern for others can deter bribery.

The study conducted two online experiments involving 2,082 college students. They played an economic game and filled out questionnaires about themselves and their qualities. As the first experiment showed, people who are more likely to feel guilt are less likely to take bribes, especially when they realize it could cause harm. Then a second experiment, in which computer simulations were applied, confirmed: worrying about the suffering of others is, for those who do not want to participate in corruption schemes, the main psychological “stopper.”

“Our findings will have important implications for current events in the world, especially in politics and government, where corruption and bribery remain major problems. Among other things, our results underscore the importance of assessing whether a person is prone to feelings of guilt, especially when choosing the leader of a particular group,” said Professor Xiaolin Zhou of East China Normal University.

However, the study was correlational, not causal. Plus, the authors did not take into account other personality traits related to morality and, in theory, capable of curbing bribery.

“It would be interesting to explore alternative psychological mechanisms, such as responsibility, obedience or submission, that might underlie the relationship between guilt propensity and bribery,” concluded Xiaolin Zhou.

Nevertheless, the results of the study are an important step in understanding the causes of corruption and will help develop strategies to combat the problem. They also highlight the importance of developing a sense of responsibility and concern for others in society.

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