Congratulations! Americans Are Pretty Honest Folks.


Let’s switch the subject to pop sociology. Or maybe it’s pop anthropology. I can never quite keep them separate. Anyway, this post is about a recent study that investigates which countries are most honest.

David Hugh-Jones a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, recruited about 100 people each from eight countries and sat them down for an online test. First, they were told to flip a coin and report the results. Second, they took a short music quiz that included three really hard questions—but they were told not to use the internet to look up the answers. If their coin came up heads, they got $5. If they got a perfect score on the quiz, they got $5.

You would expect 50 percent of the players to flip heads, so anything above 50 percent represents cheating. You would expect roughly zero percent of the players to get more than one of the hard questions correct, so any mean score above one also represents cheating.

Hugh-Jones did not himself concoct an overall honesty score, so I went ahead and made up one myself. I just normalized the scores on each of the two tests to 100 and then averaged them together. The chart below tells the tale.

So there you go. The Chinese are the least honest and Brits are the most honest. Does this mean anything? It might, assuming you think this methodology actually tells us anything meaningful about national attitudes toward honesty. I pretty much don’t, for a whole bunch of reasons. But I was feeling kind of desperate to write about something other than ISIS, so here you go.

UPDATE: This post was originally based on a working version of the paper that included only eight countries and came to some conclusions that the final paper didn’t. I have rewritten the post and redrawn the chart to represent the results of the final paper.

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