Flipping stereotypes

Flipping stereotypes

Does someone’s age or country of origin have any bearing on their level of honesty? With a simple game of heads and tails, UEA's Dr David Hugh-Jones found that more complex reasoning underpins our decision making, and traditional stereotypes have little impact on fact.

Research in UEA’s School of Economics has challenged stereotypical views about someone’s honesty based on age or the country that they come from.


There is increasing interest in the cultural and behavioural roots of economic development and economic growth.  The ability to realise gains from international trade may depend not only on an organisational partner’s honesty, but also on their trust in each other. 

People may hold beliefs about the honesty of their fellow citizens, and those in other countries, based on age or other factors.  These beliefs may be dominated by traditional stereotypes, which are likely to be inaccurate.

Dr David Hugh-Jones’ research, funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme small research grant, carried out a randomised survey in order to test this theory.  The survey asked 800 participants from eight countries to flip a coin and state whether it landed on heads or tails.  They were told that if it landed on heads they would be rewarded with $3 or $5.

The same participants were then asked to complete an online quiz where they were again rewarded financially if they answered all questions correctly.   Three of the questions were deliberately difficult so it would be highly likely participants would need to look up the correct answer. The results from the data collected from the quiz was then compared with the ‘heads and tails’ exercise so we could gauge an accurate understanding of whether a particular age group and/or culture were most likely to tell the truth!

Interestingly the research found that across age groups (18-64) there was no correlation between age of the participant and their honesty.  Differences in honesty were found between countries but this did not necessarily reflect the perceived stereotype for that country either.

This suggests that there is more complex reasoning behind decision making, and age or culture does not necessarily affect a person’s honesty.

How will you challenge convention?

The Expert

Dr David Hugh-Jones

Senior Lecturer
School of Economics

My research interests include Experiential Economics, the Economics of Conflict and Public Economics.