Nautilus

Why Anti-corruption Strategies May Backfire

Transparency and exposure to institutional corruption may enforce the norm that most people are engaging in corrupt behaviours, and that such behaviour is permissible (or that one needs to also engage in such dealings to succeed).Photograph by George Marks / Getty Images

One of the defining attributes of humans is that we are champion cooperators, surpassing levels of cooperation far beyond what is observed in other species across the animal kingdom. Understanding how cooperation is sustained, particularly in anonymous large-scale societies, remains a central question for both evolutionary scientists and policy makers.

Social scientists frequently use behavioural game theory to model cooperation in laboratory settings. These experiments suggest that “institutional punishment” can be used to sustain cooperation in large groups—a set up analogous to the role governments play

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