Heterogeneity in banker culture and its influence on dishonesty

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Abstract

The social sciences are going through what has been described as a ‘reproducibility crisis’1,2. Highly influential findings derived from accessible populations, such as laboratories and crowd-sourced worker platforms, are not always replicated. Less attention has been given to replicating findings that are derived from inaccessible populations, and recent high-profile replication attempts explicitly excluded such populations3. Pioneering experimental work4 offered a rare glimpse into banker culture and found that bankers, in contrast to other professionals, are more dishonest when they think about their job. Given the importance of the banking sector, and before academics or policy-makers rely on these findings as an accurate diagnosis of banking culture, an exploration of their generalizability is warranted. Here we conduct the same incentivized task with bankers and non-bankers from five different populations across three continents (n = 1,282 participants). In our banker studies in the Middle East and Asia Pacific (n = 148 and n = 620, respectively), we observe some dishonesty, although—in contrast to the original study4—this was not significantly increased among bankers primed to think about their work compared to bankers who were not primed. We also find that inducing non-banking professionals to think about their job does not have a significant effect on honesty. We explore sampling and methodological differences to explain the variation in findings in relation to bankers and identify two key points. First, the expectations of the general population regarding banker behaviour vary across jurisdictions, suggesting that banking culture in the jurisdiction of the original study4 may not be consistent worldwide. Second, having approached 27 financial institutions, many of which expressed concerns of adverse findings, we expect that only banks with a sound culture participated in our study. The latter introduces possible selection bias that may undermine the generalizability of any similar field study. More broadly, our study highlights the complexity of undertaking a high-fidelity replication of sensitive, highly publicized fieldwork with largely inaccessible populations resulting from institutional and geographical barriers. For policy-makers, this work suggests that caution should be exercised in generalizing the findings of the original study4 to other populations.

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Fig. 1: Variation in how priming professional identity affects honesty.
Fig. 2: Relative expectations of banker behaviour within and across jurisdictions.
Fig. 3: Replicability of the original study.

Data availability

The data generated for these studies are available at https://osf.io/56dcp/?view_only=3ef6585039b74bf9aae5deafa0f31e64.

Code availability

The code used for analyses is available at https://osf.io/56dcp/?view_only=3ef6585039b74bf9aae5deafa0f31e64. Please note the code is written in R.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all participating institutions and their staff for joining in this research, E. Kochanowska for her support in conducting additional statistical analyses and N. Obradovich for helpful comments. Our gratitude goes to Google ATAP and their Program Manager G. Pickard for funding this research.

Author information

Z.R. and B.F. designed the research, Z.R. performed the research and analysed the data and Z.R., E.Y. and B.F. wrote the paper.

Correspondence to Zoe Rahwan.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Bernd Irlenbusch and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Distributions of reported winning coin tosses in the Asia Pacific.

a, b, The frequency of different totals of reported winning coin tosses among Asia Pacific individuals from 10 rounds of the coin-tossing task. a, Individuals in the treatment group (n = 286) were primed about their professional identity as a banker. Individuals in the control group (n = 334) were asked a series of questions about their leisure activities. b, Individuals in the treatment group (n = 117) were primed about their professional identity. Individuals in the control group (n = 125) were asked the same series of questions on leisure activities as the bankers. Individuals reporting to be currently in banking roles were excluded.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Distributions of reported winning coin tosses in the Middle East.

a, b, The frequency of different totals of reported winning coin tosses among Middle Eastern individuals from 10 rounds of the coin-tossing task. a, Individuals in the treatment group (n = 71) were primed about their professional identity as a banker. Individuals in the control group (n = 77) were asked a series of questions about their leisure activities. b, Individuals in the treatment group (n = 29) were primed with their regulatory identity in financial services. Individuals in the control group (n = 38) were asked the same series of questions on leisure activities as the bankers.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Distributions of reported winning coin tosses of regulators of financial services (non-bankers) in Europe.

The frequency of different totals of reported winning coin tosses among European regulators from 10 rounds of the coin-tossing task. Individuals in the treatment group (n = 96) were primed with their regulatory identity in the financial services industry. Individuals in the control group (n = 109) were asked a series of questions about their leisure activities.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Effect of experimenter disclosure on honesty.

The average number of winning coin tosses out of 10 reported by participants in each of the three conditions (n = 925) that varied the disclosed purpose of the experiment: deception (life and satisfaction), incomplete disclosure (norms and attitudes among professionals) and transparency (honesty). Data are mean ± s.e.m. No differences were found between deception (M = 5.84)—as used previously4—and incomplete disclosure (M = 5.99), which was used here (P = 0.188, one-tailed Wilcoxon rank-sum test, α-adjusted for family-wise errors: 0.05/3 = 0.017). The only statistical difference found between the conditions was that those in the incomplete disclosure condition reported a higher number of winning coin tosses than those in the transparency condition (M = 5.64, P = 0.006, one-tailed Wilcoxon rank-sum test). The difference between the average outcomes of these two conditions was negligible and not sufficient to change actual pay-offs for participants.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Underlying distributions of the effect of experimenter disclosure on honesty.

The frequency of different totals of reported winning coin tosses from 10 rounds of a coin-tossing task among MTurk participants. In this experiment, the disclosed purpose of the experiment was randomly assigned to be in one of three conditions; deception, in which participants were informed that they were in a study regarding life and satisfaction (n = 315), incomplete disclosure, in which participants were informed that they were in a study regarding the norms and attitudes among professionals (n = 309) and transparency, in which participants were informed that we were studying honesty (n = 301).

Extended Data Fig. 6 Underlying distributions of expectations of the honesty of others.

The expected frequency of different totals of reported winning coin tosses from 10 rounds of a coin-tossing task among a sample of Asia Pacific non-banking professionals, sourced from a panel. In this experiment, the participants themselves had experience of the coin-tossing task ahead of being questioned on their expectations of reported winning outcome from one of four different populations. As such, participants had the opportunity to learn that one could be dishonest in the task. Participants were randomly assigned to be asked expectations of reported winning outcomes for the following populations: bankers (n = 65), general population (n = 58), medical doctors (n = 55) and prison inmates (n = 64).

Extended Data Fig. 7 Effect of the nature of the reward on honesty.

The average number of winning coin tosses out of 10 reported by Asia Pacific bankers in conditions in which they can either win money for themselves (n = 620) or charity (n = 559). Data are mean ± s.e.m. On average, those winning money for themselves and for charity reported 5.34 and 5.17 winning tosses, respectively. No difference was found between those able to win money—up to around US$140—for themselves or charity (P = 0.073, two-tailed Wilcoxon rank-sum test).

Extended Data Fig. 8 Underlying distributions of the effect of the nature of the reward on honesty.

The frequency of different totals of reported winning coin tosses from 10 rounds of a coin-tossing task among Asia Pacific bankers. Participants were able to either win a reward for a charity (n = 559) or for themselves (n = 620).

Extended Data Table 1 Effect of professional identity on honesty among bank employees
Extended Data Table 2 Effect of professional identity on honesty in bank and non-banking employees

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Rahwan, Z., Yoeli, E. & Fasolo, B. Heterogeneity in banker culture and its influence on dishonesty. Nature 575, 345–349 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1741-y

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