Guilt-Prone Personalities: A Bulwark Against Bribery?


Summary: Guilt-prone individuals have been identified as less likely to accept bribes, particularly if it results in harm to others. A new study explored the connection between personality traits and corruption tendencies.

The researchers suggest that recognizing these traits could inform the selection of personnel, particularly in governance roles. The study, however, is correlational and doesn’t consider other moral-related personality traits that might impact bribery.

Key Facts:

  1. Guilt-prone individuals are less likely to accept bribes, especially when it could harm others.
  2. This study highlights the potential importance of evaluating guilt-proneness during personnel selection processes, especially for leadership roles.
  3. Despite the interesting findings, the study is purely correlational and doesn’t account for other moral-related personality traits that could affect bribery behaviors.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Bribery is among the most recognizable forms of corruption, and new research is shedding light on personality traits that could deter this behavior. Guilt-prone people are less likely to accept bribes, particularly when the act would cause obvious harm to other people.

The research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, contributes to a growing body of literature on individual differences in corrupt behaviors.

“Our results have important implications for current world events, particularly in the realm of politics and governance where corruption and bribery are major concerns,” says author Prof. Xiaolin Zhou, of East China Normal University.

“More specifically, our results highlight the importance of assessing candidates’ guilt proneness in personnel selection, especially when electing a leader for a group.”

Researchers conducted two online experiments with 2,082 college students, combining economic games with personality measures. The first study demonstrated that being guilt-prone was negatively associated with accepting bribes, while the second revealed a connection between people’s concerns for others and their willingness to take a bribe.

The research also highlights the potential of utilizing computational modeling to study moral decision-making and the underlying psychological mechanisms that shape ethical behavior.

Dr. Zhou notes that the study is correlational rather than causal, meaning that researchers cannot definitively conclude that making someone more guilt-prone will reduce their likelihood of engaging in corrupt behavior.

He also notes that the research focuses on being guilt-prone as a single personality trait and does not account for other moral-related personality traits that could influence bribery.

“It would be intriguing to investigate alternative psychological mechanisms – such as responsibility, obedience, or conformity – beyond the concern for others’ suffering, that may underlie the relationship between guilt proneness and bribery,” Dr. Zhou explains.

In the meantime, the researchers would like to see the insights from this study leveraged to deter corrupt behavior.

“We hope that our findings can inform policies and interventions aimed at preventing corruption and promoting ethical behaviors in various domains, such as business and government,” says the first author Dr. Yang Hu.

About this psychology research news

Author: Stephen Waldron
Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Contact: Stephen Waldron – Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
“Are Guilt-Prone Power-Holders Less Corrupt? Evidence From Two Online Experiments” by Xiaolin Zhou et al. Social Psychology and Personality Science


Are Guilt-Prone Power-Holders Less Corrupt? Evidence From Two Online Experiments

Bribery is ubiquitous in human society. Yet it remains unknown how bribe-taking behaviors of power-holders and underlying psychological processes are affected by guilt-proneness, a crucial moral-related personality trait, and how this trait–behavior association depends on harm salience brought by bribery.

To address these questions, we conducted two online experiments (Ntotal = 2, 082) combining economic games with personality measures.

Experiment 1 showed that highly guilt-prone individuals were less willing to take bribes, especially when higher harm salience was involved. Leveraging a parametric design with computational modeling, Experiment 2 confirmed the moderation effect of harm salience, and revealed a mediation role of the concern for others’ suffering, a key psychological construct in the trait–behavior association.

Together, these findings demonstrate a critical function of guilt-proneness in curbing bribe-taking behaviors and suggest the concern for others’ suffering as an underlying psychological mechanism.

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