Jörg Gross, Margarita Leib, Theo Offerman, & Shaul Shalvi
Corruption is often the product of coordinated rule violations. Here, we investigated how such corrupt collaboration emerges and spreads when people can choose their partners versus when they cannot. Participants were assigned a partner and could increase their payoff by coordinated lying. After several interactions, they were either free to choose whether to stay with or switch their partner or forced to stay with or switch their partner. Results reveal that both dishonest and honest people exploit the freedom to choose a partner. Dishonest people seek a partner who will also lie—a “partner in crime.” Honest people, by contrast, engage in ethical free riding: They refrain from lying but also from leaving dishonest partners, taking advantage of their partners’ lies. We conclude that to curb collaborative corruption, relying on people’s honesty is insufficient. Encouraging honest individuals not to engage in ethical free riding is essential.
The freedom to select partners is important for the establishment of trust and cooperation. As we show here, however, it is also associated with potential moral hazards. For individuals who seek to keep the risk of collusion low, policies providing the freedom to choose one’s partners should be implemented with caution. Relying on people’s honesty may not always be sufficient because honest people may be willing to tolerate others’ rule violations if they stand to profit from them. Our results clarify yet again that people who are not willing to turn a blind eye and stand up to corruption should receive all praise.