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Article

Do bystanders react to bribery?

Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. 2021. Vol. 185. P. 442-462.
Zhuravleva T., Guerra A.

Do individuals consider bribery as an acceptable behavior? We use a newly-designed game to study if—and under which conditions—bystanders are willing to express disapproval for bribing behavior through costly punishment. We manipulate two key dimensions: the benefits accrued by corrupt actors and the externality imposed on idle victims. We show that on average bystanders were unresponsive nearly half of the time they witnessed bribery. We also find that context specificity matters, as bystanders were more willing to punish when bribing caused them a disadvantageous inequity with respect to corrupt actors, even if bribing enhanced overall welfare. In an additional experiment testing whether social norms play any role in punishment decisions, we find that norms did not align with the observed bystanders’ behavior. This further supports our main result that bystanders did not react to bribery due to a concern for the social norm, but rather for their own comparative disadvantage relative to corrupt actors.