Bankers were about as honest as anyone else — until they were reminded that they were bankers…

NYT points to this interesting bit of experimen on bankers.

In the experiment, people do not cheat as long as the are not reminded of their profession. The moment you ask them their profession and then get on with the experiment, bankers cheat:

As banking scandals have mounted over the past decade, some critics have suggested that the industry simply harbors a dishonest culture. Now, three economists from the University of Zurich have tested the idea.

They found that bankers were about as honest as anyone else — until they were reminded that they were bankers.

One hundred twenty-eight employees from a large international bank were assigned either to a group that answered questions about their profession (”What is your job?”) or general questions (“How much TV do you watch?”). Each employee was then asked to toss a coin 10 times and report the outcomes online.

There was an advantage, however, to lying: The subjects were told in advance that they would get a $20 reward if a given toss came up heads or tails — as long as the overall winning percentage they reported was greater than that of another randomly chosen participant.

The group that hadn’t been asked about their profession was largely honest, reporting a winning toss 51.6 percent of the time. The other group reported 58.2 percent winning tosses. The researchers calculated that 26 percent of the bankers in the latter group had cheated, compared with almost none of the first group.

To confirm their findings, the researchers performed the study again with people from other professions. Those people did not become more dishonest when asked about their work.

The findings, which were published in the journal Nature, suggest that bankers behave dishonestly only when they feel that is what is expected of them, said Alain Cohn, who is now with the University of Chicago. Perhaps, he said, banks should take a page from medicine and require their own version of the Hippocratic oath.

“It is very important to let employees know exactly what desired and undesired behaviors are,” he said in a conference call. “Then we could use a professional oath to activate these norms.”

Amazing sets of values the newgen bankers have accumulated over the years. Just make money in whatever way possible. The dangerous Friedman/Chicago School idea that the only purpose of the firm is to make money has become way too perverse..

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