Tipping is more prevalent in countries that are more corrupt

“I don’t tip because society says I have to. Alright, I tip when somebody really deserves a tip. If they put forth an effort, I’ll give them something extra. But I mean, this tipping automatically, that’s for the birds.” Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs. 

Mr Pink’s approach to tipping is that it should be a reward for past good service. Another way to view tipping is as a payment to ensure superior service in the future. It’s this latter, future-oriented motivation for tipping that Magnus Torfason and his colleagues say explains their curious observation.

Using data on tipping behaviour in 32 countries (collected from The International Guide to Tipping) and comparing this against the Corruption Perception Index, the researchers found that rates of corruption are higher in countries that tip more (the correlation was .6 were 1 would be a perfect match). This may strike some as odd – tipping is often seen as altruistic, whereas corruption is immoral. Yet, the researchers propose that tipping to ensure future good service is comparable to a bribe and this could explain the puzzling association.

To test these ideas further, Torfason’s team focused on two countries with similar rates of tipping, but different rates of corruption – India (with high tipping and high corruption) and Canada (high tipping, low corruption). A survey of 95 Canadians and 157 Indians revealed that the Indians were more likely than Canadians to say they tipped as a way to ensure good service in the future, and this motivation was correlated with their more positive attitudes towards bribery.

In a final study, the researchers primed 40 US undergrads with either a future-oriented or past-oriented approach to tipping. For this they used two versions of text ostensibly taken from the Emily Post etiquette guide. After reading that tipping should be performed as a way to ensure good service in the future (as opposed to rewarding past good service), the students tended to view two accounts of political and legal bribery more leniently.

“The studies reported here highlight a psychological mechanism that may help explain the surprising association between tipping and bribery both within and across countries,” the researchers said. They added that the findings raise some intriguing possibilities – for example, might encouraging people to give tips specifically as a reward for past good service act to reduce the tolerance of bribery in society?
_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Magnus Thor Torfason, Francis J. Flynn, and Daniella Kupor (2012). Here Is a Tip: Prosocial Gratuities Are Linked to Corruption. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550612454888

-Further reading- Why we tip and how to get a bigger tip.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

One thought on “Tipping is more prevalent in countries that are more corrupt”

  1. In the literature, tipping – especially tipping in a far away surrounding, where you will never come back – is one of the hallmarks of our prosocial, moral nature. If you have alreday cosumed the service, it would be rational to hold back your tip as this cannot be punished by bad service at a later time. So giving a tip in this situation shows that you a governed by your moral emotions (shame, which acts as a commitment device) and the internalized norm to reciprocate. You might even notice at this moment that you could get away with withholding (cheating), but that would mean, acting morally only when necessary, acting immorally whenever you are not monitored. And most people would be aware that this strategy would be above their acting talent. So they give the tip to train their moral character. Which means, alltogether, that there could be something foul with this study – not unheard in our beloved faculty of psychology.

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