Physiological and behavioral patterns of corruption
To link to this item DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00434
We study the behavior and emotional arousal of the participants in an experimental auction, leading to an asymmetric social dilemma involving an auctioneer and two bidders. An antisocial transfer (bribe) which is beneficial for the auctioneer (official) is paid, if promised, by the winner of the auction. Some pro-social behavior on both the auctioneers' and the bidders' sides is observed even in the absence of any punishment mechanism (Baseline, Treatment 0). However, pro-social behavior is adopted by the vast majority of subjects when the loser of the auction can inspect the transaction between the winner and the auctioneer (Inspection, Treatment 1). The inspection and punishment mechanism is such that, if a bribe is (not) revealed, both corrupt agents (the denouncing bidder) lose(s) this period's payoffs. This renders the inspection option unprofitable for the loser and is rarely used, especially towards the end of the session, when pro-social behavior becomes pervasive. Subjects' emotional arousal was obtained through skin conductance responses. Generally speaking, our findings suggest that stronger emotions are associated with decisions deviating from pure monetary reward maximization, rather than with (un)ethical behavior per se. In fact, using response times as a measure of the subject's reflection during the decision-making process, we can associate emotional arousal with the conflict between primary or instinctive and secondary or contemplative motivations and, more specifically, with deviations from the subject's pure monetary interest.