The Connection Between Tipping and Corruption (and Tribalism)

May 17, 2013

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.)


The Corrupt Person – Just Like You and Me?

March 25, 2013

"We're all friends here."

It’s well-known that crime is related to personality. The so-called Dark Triad traits of Psychopathy, Machiavellianism and Narcissism are more common in criminals than in the rest of the population. Basically, these individuals are impulsive, manipulative, self-centered and callous. Now, corruption is a form of crime so it would make sense that it too related to personality, especially to those traits mentioned above.

Unfortunately, there are no individual measures of corruption. Most of this activity is hard to detect directly so it’s measured indirectly by asking people how corrupt they perceive their environment, like their nation for instance.  And such a measure, like the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI ), can then be compared to national averages of personality traits. That should give at least a hint of if and the two are related.

The Data

I haven’t found any international studies on the Dark Triad, so I compared international personality data compiled by psychologist Richard Lynn (1995) using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ).  This measure has at least one scale, Psychoticism, that has been clearly related to crime. In spite of its name it is a trait very similar to Psychopathy which is common in the prison population. I compared the EPQ data with the global anti-corruption organization Transparency International’s CPI (2012). There are some flaws in that the comparison refers to different years, but things don’t seem to change that much in either personality or corruption so I don’t think it’s a big deal. And as you can see…

 

CPI on the y-axis and Psychoticism on the x-axis. Remember that CPI measures lack of corruption

CPI on the y-axis and Psychoticism on the x-axis. Remember that CPI measures lack of corruption

 

…it’s a miss! The CPI measures lack of corruption so the -0.13 means that the correlation is not contradicting the hypothesis but it’s way too low to make a case of. This only suggests that the corrupt person has a normal or slightly elevated level of Psychoticism. Let’s look at the two other traits of the EPQ, Extraversion and Neuroticism. Here are the scatter plots,

CPI on the y-axis and Extraversion on the x-axis.

CPI on the y-axis and Extraversion on the x-axis.

 

CPI on the y-axis and Neuroticism on the y-axis.

CPI on the y-axis and Neuroticism on the y-axis.

 

Both correlate stronger with corruption than Psychoticism does, although still not very impressive: -0.19 for Extraversion and -0.18 for Neuroticism. This indicates that the corrupt person is fairly normal. This makes sense from a statistical perspective. Few people would consider stealing a car or breaking into someone’s house. But lots of people will take and receive “gifts” to grease the wheels a little. If the corrupt person would be the same as the criminal then Psychopathy and other extreme personalities you see inside the prisons would be much more common in the general population. So it’s got to be a fairly common personality.

Intelligence

Then there is the matter of intelligence. There is hardly anyone who would contest that corruption and national averages of intelligence are inversely related. Looking at Lynn’s data this is very clear,

CPI on the y-axis and IQ on the x-axis.

CPI on the y-axis and IQ on the x-axis.

 

The correlation is -0.69 which is very respectable. A study from 2011 by economist Niklas Potrafke, also using data from Lynn and the CPI, found a 0.63 (using the inverse CPI). Clearly, intelligence is a much stronger factor, but a factor which is related to personality. In my data I found a -0.54 correlation between Extraversion and IQ.  Although there is no consensus on this, it seems like more studies today do find a negative correlation between Extraversion and intelligence on the individual level, although not by far as big as I found here using national averages. For instance, a recent study found a -0.2 correlation between Extraversion and vocabulary. Extraversion may be linked to corruption merely due to its link to low intelligence, but I suspect it is a contributing factor in its own right, more on that later.

So, based on these figures, who is he, the corrupt person? An Average Joe? The data from Lynn suggests that it might be a completely average person, or maybe someone who is a little more extraverted, emotionally unstable and…well psychopathic (it may not sound like it but it is a dimensional trait like the others).  But hardly anything that would strike anyone as out of the ordinary. His most conspicuous trait would be his low intelligence, and living in a country with a low average IQ even that would not be conspicuous to his fellow countrymen.

The Extraversion Hypothesis

That said, the EPQ is just one measure among many and the quality of data is no doubt increasing over time, so the picture will eventually grow clearer. The correlation with Extraversion remains intriguing and this traits relation to intelligence is still not clear. Corruption is most likely also situational which may account for some of the high corruption in Eastern Europe, which is still recovering from the collapse of communism. For Western Europe the Extraversion/corruption correlation is -0.31. So while, it’s clear that IQ is the major factor affecting corruption levels, it seems like Extraversion can have something to do with it as well.

The link to intelligence is of course interesting itself, since it is by no means evident why a country with a low IQ would be more corrupt. It’s easy to imagine a dishonest but intelligent person trying to beat the system with corruption, for instance. Potrafke suggests that intelligent people have  longer time perspectives so they realize that they win in the long run by not resorting to corruption. Personally, I don’t buy that explanation. Do people abstain from corruption because they’ve made some pragmatic calculation? No, I think it’s more visceral. Taking a bribe just doesn’t feel good. It’s a matter of shame. And those taking the bribes just don’t feel ashamed. Why not?

The Link to Tribalism

I would say they lack shame because of their tribalism. And I’m not just saying that because my previous post was about tribalism and it’s lingering in my head : ) It is a fact that the most tribal societies in the world can be found mainly in Africa and the Middle East. And this is where the IQ levels are the lowest and corruption the most spread.  Now, the highly tribal person will not look at the public good, he will look after the interests of his tribe. And if his society is made up by several such tribes – and they all are – then he will ignore the public good and side with his own. So he will have no qualms engaging in accts of corruption as long as it benefits his group. There is no shame in it because his “real” society is the tribe. Sure, he could help his tribe even more in the long run by co-operating, but tribalism dates back to a time when there was no such co-operation.

So tribalism can explain corruption, but it can also explain low intelligence. Tribalism means conforming to the group and not thinking for yourself. That alone should put a limit to the intellectual growth.  Tribal societies also show clear signs of inbreeding . Since they can’t trust foreigners, they marry their relatives, and that is a great way to decrease your IQ. So instead of assuming that low intelligence causes corruption, which intuitively makes little sense to me, tribalism can be the cause of both these factors.

And what does this have to do with Extraversion? As I mentioned in my previous post, tribalism should be viewed as a personality trait in its own right. But traits are rarely completely distinct from each other.  My suspicion is that the tribal person is more extraverted than the average. If your life is all about the group then you’re probably interacting with other group members a lot. This didn’t show up in the study I mentioned in the previous post, as some of you might remember. But that was just one study and the participants were all from America, a country with a fairly low level of corruption. It can be harder to detect there than in the more to the clan-based societies that actually show clear signs of inbreeding. (For more on inbreeding and its effect on society, check out hbd* chick.)

I’ll get back to this if I can find more data on inbreeding and extraversion. Lynns data do support this idea but there are just too few tribal countries in his sample. Who knows, this theory may even hold for some Western groups, like Christian conservatives.  I wouldn’t rule it out.


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