Köbis, N., Van Prooijen, J.-W., Righetti, F., & Van Lange, P. A. M. (in press). The road to bribery and corruption: Slippery slope or steep cliff? Psychological Science.
Major forms of corruption constitute a strong threat to the functioning of societies. The most frequent description to explain how severe corruption emerges is the slippery slope metaphor – the notion that corruption unfolds gradually. While having widespread theoretical and intuitive appeal, this notion has hardly been tested empirically. We used a recently developed paradigm to test whether severe corrupt acts unfold gradually or abruptly. The results of four experimental studies revealed a higher likelihood of severe corruption when participants directly faced this option (abrupt) compared to when they had previously engaged in minor forms of corruption (gradual). Neither the size of the payoffs, which we kept constant, nor evaluations of the actions could account for these differences. Contrary to widely shared beliefs, sometimes the route to corruption resembles as a steep cliff rather than a slippery slope.