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Nobody likes a rat: On the willingness to report lies and the consequences thereof

How do groups react towards known whistleblowers in their midst? Apparently, they try to get rid of them. This study indicates that even the non-corrupt individuals prefer not having whistleblowers in their groups.

How do groups react towards known whistleblowers in their midst? Apparently, they try to get rid of them. This study indicates that even the non-corrupt individuals prefer not having whistleblowers in their groups.

Whistleblowing is among the top approaches of combating corruption. In their paper, Reuben and Stephenson (2013) investigate whistleblowing in a game theoretical setting. They run a laboratory experiment with groups in which subjects individually have the option of increasing their payoffs by being dishonest. This decision is observable to other group members who can then whistleblow. The other group members do not suffer financial losses due to the dishonesty and there are no financial benefits from whistleblowing. Thus, the setting effectively excludes financial considerations or revenge as motives for whistleblowing. The authors also investigate how participants react when they can select the members of their group, according to the whistleblowing history of the candidates.

Based on 464 observations and 68 participants, the authors find that both non-corrupt and corrupt individuals tend to avoid including known whistleblowers into their groups. Naturally, this systematic sorting out of whistleblowers leads to higher corruption within the respective groups.

This is a strong indication that whistleblowers are generally subjected to hostile reactions from co-workers and members of their social group. The findings support policies which protect whistleblower anonymity and implement staff rotation.

Abstract

We investigate the intrinsic motivation of individuals to report, and thereby sanction, fellow group members who lie for personal gain. We further explore the changes in lying and reporting behavior that result from giving individuals a say in who joins their group. We find that enough individuals are willing to report lies such that in fixed groups lying is unprofitable. However, we also find that when groups can select their members, individuals who report lies are generally shunned, even by groups where lying is absent. This facilitates the formation of dishonest groups where lying is prevalent and reporting is nonexistent.

Reference

E. Reuben & M. Stephenson, “Nobody likes a rat: On the willingness to report lies and the consequences thereof”, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 93, 384–391 (2013)

Author : Ernesto Reuben and Matt Stephenson

27 Oct 2014


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ABOUT THE REVIEWER

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STEVE OLOTU

Institution(s): University of Göttingen, Germany. Research Field: Whistleblowing Read More...

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