"The longer individuals were exposed to socialism, the more likely they were to cheat on our task," according to a new study, "The (True) Legacy of Two Really Existing Economic Systems," from Duke University and the University of Munich. The team of researchers concluded this after working with 259 participants from Berlin who grew up on opposite sides of the infamous wall.
When playing a dice game that could earn them €6 ($8), subjects originally from the East, which was for four decades under socialist rule, were more likely than their market economy counterparts in West to lie about how they fared. The Economist explains the task:
The game was simple enough. Each participant was asked to throw a die 40 times and record each roll on a piece of paper. A higher overall tally earned a bigger payoff. Before each roll, players had to commit themselves to write down the number that was on either the top or the bottom side of the die. However, they did not have to tell anyone which side they had chosen, which made it easy to cheat by rolling the die first and then pretending that they had selected the side with the highest number. If they picked the top and then rolled a two, for example, they would have an incentive to claim—falsely—that they had chosen the bottom, which would be a five.
The results were that "East Germans cheated twice as much as West Germans overall," leaving the researchers to conclude the "the political regime of socialism has a lasting impact on citizens' basic morality."
The paper discusses some potentially related reasons for the outcome, such as the fact that
socialist systems have been characterized by extensive scarcity, which ultimately led to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in East Germany. In many instances, socialism pressured or forced people to work around official laws. For instance, in East Germany stealing a load of building materials in order to trade it for a television set might have been the only way for a driver of gravel loads to connect to the outside world. Moreover, socialist systems have been characterized by a high degree of infiltration by the intelligence apparatus.
The Duke-Munich team positions their work against a 2013 study, "Of Morals, Markets and Mice," which concluded "that market economies decay morals" but "compared decisions in bilateral and multilateral market settings to individual decisions rather than an alternative economic allocation mechanism." The new research finds that "political and economic regimes such as socialism might have an even more detrimental effect on individuals' behavior."
In another aspect of the study, the researchers note that "we did not observe an overall difference between East and West Germans in pro-social behavior," such as donating to hospitals, the capitalist-influenced demographic does, in fact, donate marginally more.