Study Finds Cheating College Students More Likely to Want Government Jobs

A new survey has found that college students who cheated on a simple task were more likely to want government jobs in adulthood. The new study of hundreds of students in Bangalore, India, was conducted by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Researchers carried out a series of experiments with more than 600 students finishing up college in India. The study, which is released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, showed that one of the contributing forces behind government corruption could be who gets into government work in the first place, writes Emily Alpert Reyes of Los Angeles Times.

In one test, college students were asked to privately roll a die and report what number they got. The higher the number, the more they would get paid. Each student rolled the die 42 times.

“If people have the view that jobs in government are corrupt, people who are honest might not want to get into that system,” said Rema Hanna, an associate professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. To combat that problem, governments may need to find new ways to screen people seeking jobs, she said.

Although researchers do not know for sure if any one student lied, they could tell whether the numbers each person reported were wildly different than what would turn up randomly — in other words, whether there were a suspiciously high number of 5s and 6s in their results.

Researchers found that more than a third of students had scores that fell in the top 1% of the predicted distribution, and students who apparently cheated were 6.3% more likely to say they wanted to work in government, according to study.

“Overall, we find that dishonest individuals — as measured by the dice task — prefer to enter government service,” according to Hanna and coauthor Shing-yi Wang, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Researchers give the same test to a smaller set of government nurses and found that those who appear to have cheated with the dice were also more likely to skip work.

Additionally, researchers ran other tests to gauge character. In another test, students played a game in which they could send a message anonymously to another player, either telling them honestly what move would earn them more money, or dishonestly nudging them toward a worse choice. Tricking the other student would help them gain more money.

In a third test, students were asked to divide up a sum of rupees between themselves and a charity of their choice. For each rupee they chose to donate, the amount given to charity would double. In some other tests, researchers measured their memory and cognitive ability, or quizzed students about whether they would cheat on exams or believed that most businesses paid bribes.

According to a Transparency International index, India is ranked 94th out of 176 countries and territories in perceived corruption. Complaints of corruption have stirred up past scandals in India.

Researchers said they were curious whether the same results turn up in other countries where government workers get higher wages and corruption is seen as less of a problem.