The Social Psychology of Corruption – Jonathan Rusch

This paper identifies and discusses a number of key sources of behavioral influence that contribute to the establishment and conduct of corrupt behavior in organizations. It first discusses basic models of decisionmaking behavior, such as Professor Daniel Kahneman’s “System One and System Two” (i.e., behavior dependent on intuition and mental shortcuts v. deliberate behavior), and how those can apply in organizational settings.

It then identifies some key modes of faulty intuition and mental shortcuts that are most likely to influence corrupt behavior. In doing so, it draws on key psychological and economic research findings and actual examples of such behavior in foreign- and domestic-bribery and corruption prosecutions and enforcement actions, including the Bank of New York Mellon, Hewlett-Packard, and Alstom cases, as well as other corporate cases such as the BNP Paribas sanctions prosecution.

Those influence modes include the overconfidence effect, reciprocation, scarcity (particularly when enhanced by perceived rivalry for the desired good), consistency and commitment (especially the use of the “foot-in-the-door” effect), social proof (including the bystander effect and pluralistic ignorance), and confirmation bias. It then examines Professor Stephen Pinker’s concept of “off-record indirect speech” as a structure of speech that can contribute to individuals’ corrupt behavior.

Here too, the paper draws on specific examples of relevant behavior in foreign- bribery and corporate cases, such as the Louis Berger International and BNP Paribas cases. It concludes with a discussion of how organizations might apply these findings to counteract these forms of corrupt-behavior influence, by explicitly identifying these forms in training materials and lectures and fostering a climate of “organizational safety,” so that employees can both recognize corrupting-influencing behaviors and be encouraged to speak out about them.

Jonathan Rusch,
Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC, USA

Original Source: This paper was submitted as part of a competitive call for papers on integrity, anti-corruption and trade in the context of the 2016 OECD Integrity Forum