A 2014 edition of Nature describes a coin-flipping task given to 128 bank employees from a large, international bank. They were asked to flip a coin over and over, and report whether it came up heads or tails – and were rewarded with $20 each time they achieved the “right” result. What was so clever about the experiment was that the experimental subjects flipped their coins out of sight. It was impossible to tell if any individual was cheating – but when the group results were compared with what the laws of probability said should happen, group cheating could be detected.
Prior to the coin task, the control group of bankers was asked questions about the use of their leisure time and their hobbies, guiding their thoughts and feelings towards their personal identity. The treatment group of bankers was asked about their work life, guiding their thoughts and feelings towards their professional identity.
When guided to think about their professional identity, the bankers as a group reported on average too many financially rewarding tosses: they lied for financial incentives. But they were generally honest when focused on their personal identity. The experiment was repeated with other employment categories, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and information technology. Guess what? No significant increase in dishonesty in the professional identity treatment was found for the non-bankers.