The Curse of Good Intentions: Why Anticorruption Messaging Can Encourage Bribery

The Curse of Good Intentions: Why Anticorruption Messaging Can Encourage Bribery

By Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham, and Caryn Peiffer, University of Bristol

Awareness-raising messages feature prominently in most anticorruption strategies. Yet, there has been limited systematic research into their efficacy. There is growing concern that anticorruption awareness-raising efforts may be backfiring; instead of encouraging citizens to resist corruption, they may be nudging them to “go with the corrupt grain.” This study offers a first test of the effect of anticorruption messaging on ordinary people’s behavior. A household-level field experiment, conducted with a representative sample in Lagos, Nigeria, is used to test whether exposure to five different messages about (anti)corruption influence the outcome of a “bribery game.” We find that exposure to anticorruption messages largely fails to discourage the decision to bribe, and in some cases it makes individuals more willing to pay a bribe. Importantly, we also find that the effect of anticorruption messaging is conditioned by an individual’s preexisting perceptions regarding the prevalence of corruption.

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