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Experiment Shows People Exposed To East German Socialism Cheat More 619

An anonymous reader writes The Economist reports, "'UNDER capitalism', ran the old Soviet-era joke, 'man exploits man. Under communism it is just the opposite.' In fact new research suggests that the Soviet system inspired not just sarcasm but cheating too: in East Germany, at least, communism appears to have inculcated moral laxity. Lars Hornuf of the University of Munich and Dan Ariely, Ximena García-Rada and Heather Mann of Duke University ran an experiment last year to test Germans' willingness to lie for personal gain. Some 250 Berliners were randomly selected to take part in a game where they could win up to €6 ($8). ... The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers ... when it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one."
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Experiment Shows People Exposed To East German Socialism Cheat More

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  • by polar red ( 215081 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:05AM (#47505805)


  • Money (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:16AM (#47505819)

    How much money did the people in each group have, on average, during their youth?

    Otherwise they might be just testing whether richer people give a lesser value to a small amount of money than poorer people.

    I'm pretty sure the average 20yo european would cheat less to get 8$ than the average south american and more than the average japanese.

    • Re:Money (Score:5, Informative)

      by arglebargle_xiv ( 2212710 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:24AM (#47505853)

      Otherwise they might be just testing whether richer people give a lesser value to a small amount of money than poorer people.

      It's not money, it's access to goods (and pretty much everything else). If you wanted anything in East Germany (or Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia, ...), you had to take shortcuts. My west German relatives used to visit their east German relatives with the car packed with luxury goods like tins of paint (for their roof), which were unavailable to most people in the east unless you knew how to game the system. All this study seems to be showing is that if you grow up in a society where you need to be able to game the system in order to get anywhere, you end up gaming the system in order to get somewhere.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Money was not really the issue. A nice home, a good education, travel papers to the West (not been restricted only to the East/Soviet Union) was a real goal worth attempting and protecting.
        The problem was even if you put in the hard work, stayed loyal to the gov and its meetings, had the skills you might not be able to escape your parents pasts.
        ie same skills, age, level of trust to a point but if your parents where pre ww2 wealthy you might not get anywhere out of the East.
        ie if you got to work in the
      • by Axynter ( 684016 )

        All this study seems to be showing is that if you grow up in a society where you need to be able to game the system in order to get anywhere, you end up gaming the system in order to get somewhere.

        Absolutely right, and ultimately doesn't have much to do with socialism per se, although socialism, as implemented in Eastern Europe, certainly created a climate in which one had to game the system in order to survive. Take the example of Romania today (obviously no longer "socialist"), where the minimum wage is somewhere around 200 euros, and the median wages are not too far off from that figure. The prices there are basically the same as in East Germany, so most of the people need to game the system someh

      • by jedrek ( 79264 )

        My Polish grandmother wouldn't go out to buy things, she'd go out to "take care" of them. Be it by trade, barter or straight out buying, it was all "taken care of".

    • by popo ( 107611 )

      Exactly right. My thoughts exactly.

      If one were to conduct the same study but offer $10,000 instead if $6, I am quite sure the percentage of cheaters would rise to include a significant number of those born in the relatively rich West.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:17AM (#47505823)

    I'm just on my morning coffee. Isn't it a bit early in the morning for propaganda? (Or does anyone here think we would be reading this if that plane hadn't gone down?)

  • Breaking news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by egladil ( 1640419 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:20AM (#47505833)
    People raised in a country were the government spies on its citizens, encourages selling people out, and kidnaps dissenters are more likely to lie for personal gain.

    My guess is this is more an effect caused by Stasi, and not the communism/capitalism divide.
    • Re:Breaking news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:30AM (#47505879)

      .. there's a reason paranoia is a typical stereotype associated with eastern bloc societies. ...and the united states these days. Corporates cannot dominate without a powerful state willing to back them.

    • Also, a corrupt leadership sets an example.

      • Re:Breaking news (Score:5, Insightful)

        by StillAnonymous ( 595680 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @07:26AM (#47506489)

        This is actually one of the most important points and can't be stated enough.

        Look at what's happening in the West now. Bankers run amok, ripping off trillions and causing widespread economic damage. Instead of being punished for their crimes (which aren't even acknowledged by those in power), they are allowed to continue. Inflation, taxation, offshoring, dubious immigration policies, and (in the USA particularly) a corrupted healthcare system resulting in enormous costs has ruined the middle class. The poor are just as fucked as ever and the only government response to that is to build more prisons for the crimes that are the result of poverty.

        How do the people react? Take a look around. More and more people are resorting to get-rich-quick schemes and outright scams. Frivolous litigation in attempt to score a big windfall so they'll never have to work again.

        Nobody wants to put in a hard day's work any more because they're realized that it's a sucker's game. Like a parent, government must lead by example. And the example they are setting is a dire one.

        • by digsbo ( 1292334 )
          An economically illiterate public is a lot easier to fleece, no? It may not be an intentional plan, but it might be, and it is certainly the case that the educational system is a total failure when it comes to teaching people about their banking system, and how the banking system is exploited by the government and large corporations (but I repeat myself).
    • Communism causes Stasi. It can hardly co-exist with other political ideologies! It seeks to eradicate them and institute a one-party state. One can hardly do something like this when right-wingers are allowed free speech right alongside the good people. Thus, the state needs to defend itself - for everyone's own good, of course.

      "You are dictatorial." My dear sirs, you are right, that is just what we are. All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teaches us to enforc

      • Thus, the state needs to defend itself - for everyone's own good, of course.

        That sounds like the standard excuse for building a surveillance state - completly independent of what the actual political system is calling itself. And we're currently seeing it in far too many "democratic" states.

      • Re:Breaking news (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Half-pint HAL ( 718102 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @05:20AM (#47506199)

        Communism causes Stasi.

        So does capitalism cause House Committee on Un-American Activities?

        And what's the difference between the two anyway?

    • People raised in a country were the government spies on its citizens, encourages selling people out, and kidnaps dissenters are more likely to lie for personal gain..

      Wow. You're broadening the definition enough to make it intresting to have people from several other countries tested, too....

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tgv ( 254536 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:20AM (#47505837) Journal

    Researcher ask two groups, that they know to be different beforehand, a question, and then are surprised to get different answers? Really? If it had gone the other way around, they would have had simply reversed the explanation. And this study has so many potential confounds, like poverty, or even geological distribution, that it's hard to describe the level of ignorance of researchers that contribute this effect in their abstract to "exposure to socialism". Last week there was something about children from religious groups vs. children from non-religious groups, and the message that gets picked up is: religious children are more superstitious, and this week it is: socialism makes people dishonest, etc., while in reality no such conclusion can be drawn. Seriously? F* this kind of research.

  • by gyepi ( 891047 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:23AM (#47505847) Homepage
    From TFA:

    The study reveals nothing about the nature of the link between socialism and dishonesty. It might be a function of the relative poverty of East Germans, for example.

    Although the historically observed relative poverty may indeed be causally linked to choice of an economic-political system, even that would not be sufficient to appropriately identify the economic-political system as the cause of the alleged differences in moral aptitudes.
  • hate to say it, but correlation does not equal causation. didn't east Germany also have significantly lower economic prosperity and hence people grew up with the need to take every advantage they could get. Even then it is still just correlation but I would be willing to bet economic conditions have more to do with it than political system/philosophy.

  • by abbamouse ( 469716 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @03:51AM (#47505937) Homepage

    Sigh. We've known for a long time that in autocratic regimes of any type, levels of interpersonal trust are lowered. After all, your neighbor might be an informer, and the state itself is a liar and propagandist. Similarly, low levels of social trust correlate with all sorts of antisocial behavior, from cheating and intolerance to distrust of democracy itself. So all this experiment really proves is something we already know: living a long time under an oppressive regime generates distrust which legitimizes cheating and so forth. Capitalism and "socialism" have little to do with it.

    • It's BIAS, stupid. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @07:32AM (#47506505) Journal

      But thanks for showing it.

      Study was done on 259 Germans.
      Out of which "90 subjects reported having an East German family background and 98 subjects having a West German family background."

      Too small a sample size to be of any use? Indeed. []
      They are way out in the "our numbers mean diddly-squat" territory, as their margins of error are 7.82% (WGFB) and 8.36% (EGFB). []

      I.e. when they report 9% and 19% average cheating that's actually 9 +/- 7.82% and 19 +/- 8.36%.
      It could just as well be that WGFB are cheating 16% of the time while EGFB are cheating only 11% of the time.
      Oh damn! Now it means that "because democracy, stupid", levels of interpersonal trust are lowered in the west.

      They all rolled the dice only 40 times. A fair dice should give an average mean of 3.5.
      They report average mean for "East German family background" (90 people) to be 3.83.
      For "West German family background" (98 people) they report an average mean of 3.68.
      But when you sample those same Germans whether they CONSIDER THEMSELVES East, West or just Germans - simply Germans (141 people) have an average mean of 3.70 while East/West Germans (73 people) have an average of 3.83.

      Note how, smaller the sample the more extreme the result gets? That's because the overall sample size is too small.
      A couple of people misreporting the results could be throwing the whole thing off.
      AND they have a really strange sample of "German family heritage" (37 people), whatever that should mean as East-West was set as a 0-1 choice, who are practically not cheating at all, giving the average of 3.57.
      While "others" (i.e. immigrants) cheat the most. 3.85. And yes, they are the smallest sample of only 30 people.

      On the other hand... the incentive to cheat was simply not there.
      At best, rolling a 6 all the time (i.e. cheating 100%), they'd get 6 Euros in the end. A cup of coffee costs about 4.2 Euros. []
      So people were supposedly cheating in order to get between 0.07 and 0.35 Euros?

      After agreeing to participate, each subject received an envelope with six single 1 EUR coins,
      the maximal possible payout on the die task we used to measure cheating. Subjects were then
      asked to throw a physical die 40 times.

      The payout that subjects ultimately received was determined by selecting one of their
      rolls at random, by having the experimenter draw a number from 1 to 40 out of an envelope.
      Subjects earned 1 EUR for each dot on this particular roll. If subjects were completely honest,
      they would be expected to report deciding on the high side of the die in 50 percent of cases,
      and the expected value of the average payout would be 3.50 EUR.

      But there was plenty room for false positives as they used physical dice they ASSUMED were fair.
      When IRL a dice shorter by 3% on one side gives 6% more results on that side.
      And low quality, toy store bought, dice are even worse. []

      Also, East-West bias can be noted in the stats measured and stats assumed.
      No regression calculation was reported for West German family, while t-test values were always fixed (i.e. assumed) for East Germans and always calculated for West Germans.
      And there's that thing of "East German family background" being marked with a 0 and "West German family background" being marked with a 1.
      Someone seems to like West Germans better.

  • How can one make any conclusion with a sample size that small?
  • by giorgist ( 1208992 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @04:09AM (#47505989)

    The latest book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined sets out the mechanisms and the reasons why this is the case. If you want the short answer ...

  • I don't think there is much to see here.

    Soviet communism, and marxist communism in general, operate (wrongly) under assumptions of the economy being a zero-sum game, so it's not really a surprise it has an effect on the ethics of its 'players'. Quoting straight from the Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism:

    whatever the capitalists take from the workers in the form of open or concealed profits, the workers lose completely. And this is the very definition of a zero-sum situation.

    In a zero-sum game people tend

  • Yes I can see what they mean, the only measure of honesty is frequency of thieving and cheating, not magnitude. Under communism everybody cheats all of the time but most people who do the bulk of the thieving are petty thieves whereas under capitalism you have an elite made up of corporate executives, elected representatives and bankers that has been given a license by society to handle most of the thieving and cheating. Capitalists steal less often but when theft happens they rob everybody else blind. Epip

  • Are they sure the cause was socialism and not the oppressive dictatorship they lived under? It's not like their socialist government was democratically elected, maybe that's influenced them more?

  • by balajeerc ( 1461659 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @04:54AM (#47506115)
    I wonder if socialism was the wrong control variable to use in this study. I have a hunch that any people who were brought up in a society with extremely limited resources would be more prone to cheat to get ahead than where resources where more bountiful. I am a citizen of a third world country myself (India) and I find that among my compatriots, a few specific states that are highly underdeveloped seem to have higher crime rates on an average than those states that are relatively better off. What's more, emigrants from these states seem to suffer disproportionately high rates of incarceration even in other states. If you look at it in terms of poverty, the fact that people who have endured grinding poverty are more inclined to jostle to get ahead is hardly surprising.
  • by yacc143 ( 975862 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @04:59AM (#47506139) Homepage

    It's a simple case of living in system where you need to cheat (be creative, "organize", ...) to fulfill basic requirements.

    That means that people who have lived through this deprivation, act funny to people in more normal econimies:

    1.) So you need to sacks of cement. Typical response of a Western guy, "okay, let's go buy 2 sacks of cement, and what exact kind do we need?". Somebody tha has lived in the Eastern block might start plotting a "plan" to get his hands at two sacks of cement. That might involve all kinds of criminal or semi-criminal behaviour, be it stealing, defrauding, ... => one of the reason why many building efforts of the communist were not as well built as planned, quite a bit of material disappeared.

    2.) Values and perceptions are also shifted. Happened to our family. Our car was stolen in a former eastern country. Very irritating experience, one has to organize how to get home, fill out a ton of irritating insurance forms, and one might wait a couple of weeks for a new car. Our local acquaintances took it as if the theft was "the end of the world" => cars at that time were viewed quite different there.

    In my experience, it took at least a decade of "freedom" before the worst of there effects were gone (e.g. I need X => let's see what shops sell X), and multiple decades before it all faded kind of in the background.

    Germany is a special case too, because it was a split country (so many things that are not commonly visible are more visible), plus Eastern Germany was one of the economic powerhouses of the Eastern block, so normal people could avoid the deprivation economy quite a bit longer/had to endure it way shorter.

    But still, the point stays, if the only way to feed your kids is stealing, most people will start stealing. And if the situation where this is necessary keeps on going for decades, certain habits and values form that cannot be undone quickly.

  • Run this through some biased right-wing news sites or blogs. You know how it'll turn out. I give it two days before we start seeing "Scientists show liberals more prone to lying" or "Science shows a free market makes people honest." Give it a week and someone will find a way to tie it into 'judeo-christian values' too.

  • I came to the same conclusion long before there was a "scientific" research on the subject (take it from somebody who grew up in Eastern Europe!). Yes, we are cheats - and that's a fact. We have been bombarded with so much lies during the long communist years (the kind that everybody knew were lies) and in the end everybody excepted lies as a fact of life. And once the system changed, our thinking did not. We were still lying to each other and cheating each other. Even today, some 25 years since the fall of
  • Quite True (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @05:19AM (#47506195)

    One thing is that the folk is quite cunning in a bad way.

    We had a joke in socialism which was called 7 wonders of socialism. I apologize for a quick translation which is inaccurate and probably misses the pun, but:

    *1. Everyone has a job.
    *2. Although everyone has a job, no one does anything (works).
    *3. Altough no one works, the production plan is fullfilled by 100 %.
    *4. Although the plan is fullfilled by 100%, there is nothing (nothing done).
    *5. Although there is nothing, everyone has everything.
    *6. Although everyone has everything, everyone steals.
    *7. Although everyone steals, nothing is missing.

    We invented company tunelling, go figure.

  • by Kilobug ( 213978 ) <le-mig_g.epita@fr> on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @05:49AM (#47506271)

    In the realm of ethics, three main schools are contesting : virtue ethics, deontology and consequentialism.

    Virtue ethics say that being ethical is showing a certain number of virtues, and lacking a certain number of vices. Honesty is a virtue, dishonesty a vice.

    Deontology ethics say that being ethical is following a certain number of rules (self-imposed or not), and usually deontology ethics contain rules against lying, too.

    Consequentialism ethics say they being ethical is judging acts for the consequences it has on people. For consequentialist, lying (or stealing, or killing) aren't bad in thesmselves, but only because they have bad consequences (ie, they hurt people). For a consequentialist, stealing something that would be wasted. For example, after a natural disaster, a supermarket is wrecked and has no staff anymore, and food products are getting rotten, there is no harm done in taking them, so it's ethical to do so.

    If you look at that setup, well, what harm is done by lying? Not much, so while virtue ethics and deontology would still prevent people from lying, consequentialism doesn't. Maybe the answer is just that people growing in DDR, less exposed to religion, are more consequentialist ? Which doesn't make them less ethical, none of the three system is clearly the "best", it's a highly contested topic (I tend to lean towards consequentialism myself, but don't completly reject the other two).

    And on this, I'm definitely a consequentialist. Being a role-player, "lying about a die roll" has no strict ethical value to me: if I'm a player, it's unethical, but if I'm the DM, it's just part of the job ! ;) I never lied about die roll as a player, and would never do it, so you can consider me to be "very ethical"... but on the other hand, in a setup like that experiment (when the harm of lying is not clear at all) or as a DM, I don't have any issue with lying.

  • by sageres ( 561626 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @07:45AM (#47506551)

    In order to fully understand how any society works, one must grow up under that system. As a person who grew up in the old Soviet Union, I am intimately aware of how and why the people were being cheated. My father pretty much gave me an introduction to the old Soviet system, and explained how it works.
    Story #1.
    My father used to work two jobs, as a house painter. First job was for the state, and the second job (In Russian "Khaltura") for himself. We lived OK, and could make ends meet. One time on a weekend, when I was ten years old, my father took me to his second job. I was carrying a bucket of paint (it was very heavy), and my father was carrying three. On the way he told me how it works. A state on the first job gives five buckets of paint to work on the apartment. By doing some Soviet Innovation chemical Magic with water, paint, iron powder and gasoline it is possible to make five buckets of paint out of two buckets (which what my dad used to do), and three of the buckets he would take to the second job. I recall being in shock, and my dad told me that the state hardly pays any money for survival, and only the second job can. He also told me that everyone steals, and in the Soviet System everyone steals because EVERYONE IS THE OWNER. I did not like the explanation, and was quite upset. However the person who we pained the apartment of (a local surgeon), interjected into our conversation. He told me that he does the same thing, except he and his nurses take (steal) antibiotics and other drugs, borrow medical instruments and once a week go to remote villages that lacks doctors to operate on the patients. That's how they make 70% of their living. This incident really opened my eyes. Everyone was stealing. A state store personnel would divert the goods from the store onto the black market, thus making a profit. A car mechanic would reuse old brakes (again, Soviet innovation magic) instead of replacing onto new ones, selling the new breaks. And everyone was doing this, not because they are dishonest, but because they needed to survive. To illustrate some quirks of Soviet Survival, here is a story #2.
    This happened when I was 11 years old. It was a middle of the night, and approximately 3 o'clock early morning. I suddenly saw a light coming from my parents' room, and heard my dad walking in his heavy shoes. Looking at my alarm clock, I could not understand what would my dad be doing so early.
    I came out rubbing my eyes, seeing my dad fully dressed I asked, "Dad, where are you going?"
    And he answered me, "I'm going to a milk store, son".
    I told him that the milk store opens at 6 in the morning, why would he need to leave at three. To which he replied:
    "Son, if I wait until that time to come to the store opening, there is going to be such a huge line of people, that by the time my time comes to get the milk -- there is going to be none there. So I have to go and stay there for three hours, waiting until the store opens."
    After my dad left, I drank some tea, ate my breakfast and went after my dad to the milk store to stand with him.

  • by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @08:02AM (#47506605) Homepage Journal

    One of the most fair, hard-working & awesome people I know was born & raised in East Germany. She was also one of the first people over the wall when it came down. I've worked with her for 19 years & I'm pretty sure she'd have an exception to this "study".

  • Ethic superiority (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @09:23AM (#47507151)

    "when it comes to ethics, a capitalist upbringing appears to trump a socialist one."

    This has me infuriated.
    I am a former East German and lived in a very pro-state family. That also meant, that my family was under heavy surveillance, because they carried some responsibility. (We did not know that back then and were stupid enough to believe, we weren't, because most of the family believed in the system). I say that to illustrate, that my family truly believed in the state.
    That said... even though they believed in the state, you had to get creative to get, what you need - as other people mentioned in this thread.

    The story i am thinking about, is the moment, when the wall came down. I saw in my family and the families of friends, how advertising was religiously believed. Today we laugh about the Nigerian Prince Spam-Mail or the "Congratulations, you are the 1000000th Visitor to our page" - but back then, many people believed the mail-order and sailsperson-versions of these scams. They had not been exposed to aggressive advertising - a form of cheating. You might see this as trivial... for years I saw my grandma fillling out every stupid order - she was bombarded by telemarketing and she was not a stupid woman. Suddenly, it was not the state anymore, who you had to be afraid of (if you did not agree) - it were your fellow human beings. From a citizen, you were transformed into a customer.

    That said - i personally am SO GLAD to live in today's germany. And the greif was unbelieavable, when everything came to light, that happened in Eastern Germany. It broke many people in my family, who truly believed in the idea.
    To assign capitalism ethical superiority based on this experiment and the assumption, that cheating on money is a valiable source to do that... is wrong and funnily capitalist ; )

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday July 22, 2014 @11:41AM (#47508151) Homepage Journal

    The proper conclusion is that SOME combination of rampant surveillance by the government, totalitarianism, socialism, and poverty in East Germany lead to a greater willingness to lie and cheat. They have not even attempted to control for the confounding factors sufficiently to pin it on socialism.

    Honestly, were I to make a guess, I would rank socialism as the least likely among those conditions to be the actual cause of the measured difference. I would place the fact that the Stasi employed a full third of the population to tattle on the other two thirds near the top of the list. Why not lie to someone who is 33% likely to report you to the authorities if you tell the truth?

    If they really want to draw a solid conclusion, they need to compare with other populations as well.

  • I would wager you could do this exact same test with people from any long term economically down trodden people.
    We are talking about people who needed to lie to survive for 3 generations.

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