The Connection Between Tipping and Corruption (and Tribalism)

TippingMagnus Thor Torfason, professor of Harvard Business School, and colleagues have made an interesting study on tipping and corruption, published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science (for a larger image click on this link). They found that countries in which tipping is common are more corrupt than others, according to the Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI). The raw correlation is a whopping 0.6, but since other factors affect corruption these must be controlled for in order to see if there is some new unique effect linked to tipping. So they controlled for other relevant factors, namely Individualism Index, Power Distance Index, GDP per capita, income inequality, homicide rates, civil liberty restrictions, highest marginal tax rate, minimum wage and public funding of health care. When all these are taken into account there is still a unique influence linked to tipping, about half the size of GDP per capita (which btw is a rough proxy of intelligence which for some reason wasn’t included).

Two Kinds of Tipping

So what lies behind this mysterious tipping effect? Torfason’s hypothesis is that it has to do with temporal focus. It’s tipping in order to influence future behavior that he thinks is linked to corruption. Not all tipping has this temporal focus; some people will tip simply as a way of saying thanks. It’s the others, those who tip in an attempt to manipulate the person they tip, that are thinking in the same way as a corrupt person and that supposedly makes up the link between tipping and corruption.

In order to test this hypothesis Torfason & Co made secondary study comparing two countries equal in the prevalence of tipping but very different in levels of corruption – Canada and India. The participants were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I want to motivate this person to give me good service in the future.” Agreeing with this statement would obviously indicate a temporal focus on future events. They then filled in a bribery attitude measure form, judging actions like for instance whether it’s ok to bribe a policeman to avoid getting a traffic ticket.

The result clearly indicated that Indians were thinking about tipping with a temporal focus on future rewards to larger extent than the Canadians, and at the same time they were more accepting of corruption. The researchers also also crunched the numbers to ensure that the temporal focus did in fact mediate the link between tipping and attitude to corruption.

Further exploring this issue Torfason writes,

If cross-cultural differences in attitudes toward bribery are driven by temporal focus, it seems reasonable to assume that differences in temporal focus, at the individual level, will relate to bribery attitudes in the same way, even for citizens of the same country.”

To test this idea, a third study was conducted, this time using only American participants. Unfortunately, Torfason didn’t just measure temporal focus and attitude to corruption, instead he primed the participants by letting half read an article titled ‘‘Basic Tips on Tipping: Encouraging Good Service’’ and the other half an article titled “Basic Tips on Tipping: Rewarding Good Service.” I’m not sure why they did this. Perhaps they were afraid of getting to little variance from a rather small convenience sample, or maybe it was the political implications – after all, priming conceals the whole issue of whether this temporal focus (read manipulation) is a matter of personality or not. Since all known personality traits are highly inheritable, such a result would leave no doubt that Indians are inherently more manipulative than Canadians.

Corruption Is Caused by Something Much Worse than Low Intelligence

Still, even if Torfason doesn’t want to spell it out, it’s pretty obvious that this is at least in part a matter of personality. Because tipping someone in the hope that they in the future will behave in a certain manner that benefits you is by definition a form of manipulation. And manipulative behavior is an aspect of Machiavellism, a well-documented personality trait characterized by manipulative and exploitive interpersonal behavior.

Although more research is needed, this certainly adds a piece to the puzzle of personality and corruption that I’ve been discussing in a previous post. In that post I found modest correlations between nation-level corruption and Extraversion, Neuroticism and Psychoticism. These correlations suggests that the corrupt person is not just someone with low intelligence who fails to understand the long-term gains of avoiding corruption, a theory proposed by German economist Niklas Potrafke. Torfason adds further evidence linking corruption to Psychoticism, or one of its aspects, Machiavellism, a trait that along with Psychopathy and Narcissism make up the so-called Dark Triad of traits often found in criminals. Far from Potrafkes image of the corrupt person as a pretty harmless person who doesn’t quite understand what he’s doing, Torfason’s research suggests a much more sinister and calculating person.

Torfason’s  – unwanted? – discovery is for that reason more in line with hbd* chick’s theory of how high corruption levels are linked to clan-based societies. In these societies evolution has favored those with gene variants for familial altruism, creating an overly friendly attitude to relatives and an equally hostile attitude towards outsiders. This hostility, Torfason’s study suggests, goes beyond being wary of strangers or putting your own children before others. It takes the form of manipulative behavior towards outsiders. And the government is one such outsider which then explains corruption.

What Can Be Done About It?

You rarely encounter research of this kind so I can understand that Torfason is cautious, kudos to him for even going there. I’ve always liked India and I think it has loads of potential. The country actually scores higher than many other countries on Openness and Agreeableness suggesting that they have the capacity to change. But having an accumulation of anti-social traits in your population is not a joke. If India and other countries with this problem want to change, they need to face reality in order to find the solutions. There are ways of reducing genes for familial altruism, anti-social behavior or any other behavioral traits. Sadly, the PC establishment will stigmatize anyone who tries to discuss this issue, since mentioning genetic differences between peoples is Nazism, and all you really have to do is give children books to read, right? It seems the people calling themselves progressive today represent the worst kind of conservatism – the let’s-not-change-anything-that-hurts-my-feelings variety.

Extraversion, Still Relevant

That’s not to say that anti-social traits are the only possible link to tribalism and corruption. I’m still holding on to my Extraversion hypothesis, given how obviously very introverted countries like Finland and Japan have so little corruption, and, as I mentioned in my previous post, Extraversion correlates some -0.30 with corruption in Western Europe. It’s also worth mentioning that people who are overly honest and open towards strangers, tend to have Asperger-like personalities, which are characterized among other things by a very strong introversion. And anyone who has been a student has probably noticed how enthusiastic highly extraverted people are about the tribal rituals of student life, initiations and the like. Hopefully there will be some research on this too sometime in the future.

(As a fun fact, the combination of tribalism, inbreeding and anti-social attitudes is nothing new. It has been described in popular culture many times. In American films, such as for instance Deliverance (1972) featuring Burt Reynolds, the isolated inhabitants of the Appalachians are often depicted as inbred and possessing a mind-boggling cruelty towards strangers. For some reason it’s ok to exaggerate and make fun of that, probably because they’re white. But it seems political correctness draws the line somewhere between the Appalachians and Morocco.)

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6 Responses to The Connection Between Tipping and Corruption (and Tribalism)

  1. JayMan says:

    Simply brilliant post! The Sopranos comes to mind. It’s not those like tribal/clannish societies can’t be nice to non-relatives, but there’s almost always a distinct manipulative aspect to it. It’ll be interesting to see what would emerge once more personality data becomes compiled.

  2. Staffan says:

    Thanks,

    Yes, I reflected on that as well, how similar these clans or families are to organized crime.

    Sadly, research psychologists (95 percent liberals) shy away from these issues; both Torfason and Potrafke are economists. But they are still gathering the relevant information so the uncomfortable truth will come out one way or another.

  3. Matt says:

    The participants were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I want to motivate this person to give me good service in the future.” Agreeing with this statement would obviously indicate a temporal focus on future events. They then filled in a bribery attitude measure form, judging actions like for instance whether it’s ok to bribe a policeman to avoid getting a traffic ticket.

    One element I see here is that retaliation is more likely in the Indian context.

    If you don’t bribe an Canadian cop, he probably will still treat you well or poorly, as at the least he is limited in terms of discretion which he can actually apply (he’s monitored, he’s documented and he’s regulated).

    If you don’t bribe an Indian cop, that’s not the case, as at the least their behavior is not very well documented or measured and they thus have an array of discretion they can apply (which community understanding).

    So even if intrinsic dispositions towards seeking the self interest and future orientation are the same, then accurately perceiving the behavior of other agents changes the motivation for payoffs.

    A change in a small segment of the population – those who could or could not solicit bribes or return preferential treatment – would lead to large changes in social behavior, without any need for any change, large or small, in the population as a whole.

    You probably did not intend this, but your post kind of seems to give the impression to me of a notion of populations which vary in manipulative or non-manipulative people and government officials in each of these populations who do not vary significantly in how much they solicit bribes or punish people who do not pay tribute to them…. Of government officials who are passive agents in bribery and corruption initiated by others, which I should think is more usually the opposite of the case.

    Finland and Japan have so little corruption, and, as I mentioned in my previous post, Extraversion correlates some -0.30 with corruption in Western Europe. It’s also worth mentioning that people who are overly honest and open towards strangers, tend to have Asperger-like personalities, which are characterized among other things by a very strong introversion.

    China and Japan have historically pretty high corruption, Russia is pretty corrupt (I have the impression they are relatively introverted as a nation).

    I can imagine people with poor social abilities being more interested in using formal, corruption free procedures that do not weigh heavily on personal social abilities, and I can see intraverts being like that. But I can also see people with weak social abilities being more interested in trying to use money to bypass inherently social processes of negotiation where social skills pay off, as well.

    I don’t know that open and honest really characterizes people introverts – speaking for myself, I cannot tell a lie to others very easily (for one, I don’t want to encourage others to lie to me, which I cannot really read that well – I’d lose the Lying Game), but I generally avoid disclosing social information or information about myself, so it would be very hard to call me open and honest.

    • Staffan says:

      “You probably did not intend this, but your post kind of seems to give the impression to me of a notion of populations which vary in manipulative or non-manipulative people and government officials in each of these populations who do not vary significantly in how much they solicit bribes or punish people who do not pay tribute to them….”

      Sure, it takes two to tango. But you seem to say that Indians are forced to give bribes and that this explains their positive attitude to the custom. I doubt that since there is absolutely no reason why someone would express a positive attitude anonymously in a study like this since there is no retaliation. There was also variation in responses so it suggests that there is no “strong situation” involved. And why the temporal focus on future rewards when tipping, is that just a coincidence?

      Japan has had a good CPI ranking back to 1995 when they started measuring. It’s true that China and Russia are pretty corrupt. It seems to me that corruption is partly a matter of population size. Russia is still recovering from communism (and it has a fairly large population as well). I’m not saying personality is the only factor, but studies like this one suggests that it plays an important role.

      Not all introverts are alike of course. I just found it interesting that aspie-type people tend to be overly honest when they have such strong introversion. Not that introversion is their only characteristic.

  4. […] The Connection Between Tipping and Corruption (and Tribalism) – “[C]ountries in which tipping is common are more corrupt than others, according to the Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI).” – from staffan – h/t jayman! […]

  5. […] ahead in Northwestern Europe. Certainly not one that would freely give trust to strangers, would expect favors from others without the other party getting something out of the deal, or would be very universalistic in their view of the world. A fundamentally different kind of […]

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