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At the roots of corruption: a behavioral ethics approach

Project description

Unveiling the dark side of cooperation

Cooperation is the ultimate buzzword of teamwork and success, but it’s not always as squeaky clean as you might think. There’s a dark side lurking beneath the surface. Corrupt collaboration, from business to sports, is eating away at the very foundation of teamwork. In this context, the European Research Council-funded Corruption Roots project will investigate the negative aspects of human cooperation. While cooperation is often praised for its benefits, such as building trust and achieving mutually beneficial outcomes, there is sparse research on the potential for unethical conduct among cooperating partners. For instance, the project focuses on cases where one party bends ethical rules to benefit another. The findings will help change commonly held beliefs about the positive nature of cooperation.


For many years, human cooperation has been praised as beneficial in organizational and personal settings. Indeed, cooperation allows people to develop trust, build meaningful relationships, achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, and strengthen bonding with one's group members. However, while the benefits of cooperation are clear, very little is known about its possible negative aspects. Such negative aspects include the potential emergence of unethical conduct among cooperating partners, or as termed here – corrupt collaboration. Such joint unethical efforts, benefiting (directly or indirectly) one or more of the involved parties, occur in business, sports, and even academia. Corrupt collaboration emerges when one party bends ethical rules (here: lie) to set the stage for another party to further bend ethical rules and get the job done, that is, secure personal profit based on joint unethical acts. We propose that corrupt collaborations most commonly occur when all involved parties gain from the corrupt behavior. The current proposal is aimed at unfolding the roots and nature of corrupt collaborations; their existence, the psychological and biological processes underlying them, and the settings most likely to make corrupt collaboration emerge and spread. Accordingly, the information gathered in the current proposal has the potential to change the commonly held conceptions regarding the unidimensional – positive – nature of cooperation. It will help create a comprehensive understanding of cooperation and, specifically, when it should be encouraged or, alternatively, monitored.



Net EU contribution
€ 1 500 000,00
Spui 21
1012WX Amsterdam

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West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)