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Can a sense of entitlement increase stealing?

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  • Christina Gravert

    (Department of Economics and Business, Aarhus University, Denmark)

Abstract

Are people more likely to steal when the payoff they deserve is determined randomly or when it depends on their performance in a difficult task? In this paper I investigate how the probability of stealing is affected by the way in which payoff is earned. After answering a short survey one group was asked to roll a die to determine their payoff, while the other group had three minutes to find matching numbers in a matrix task. Participants then paid themselves unobserved by the experimenter. I find that the participants who earned their payoff according to performance were three times more likely to take the (undeserved) maximum payoff than the participants in the random payment scheme. In contrast to previous findings in the cheating literature, stealing is an all-or-nothing decision rather than a trade-off between a slightly higher payoff and the desire to keep ones moral values intact. The results support the theory that unethical behavior is increased by a sense of entitlement, which is more pronounced when wealth depends on performance than on the roll of a die.

Suggested Citation

  • Christina Gravert, 2012. "Can a sense of entitlement increase stealing?," Economics Working Papers 2012-21, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University.
  • Handle: RePEc:aah:aarhec:2012-21
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    File URL: ftp://ftp.econ.au.dk/afn/wp/12/wp12_21.pdf
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Experiments; Deception; Entitlement; Justification;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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