Many dishonest acts acceptable among Australian youths

A third of adults in their early 20s would have no qualms about pocketing extra change from a shop or an ATM, and a quarter believe submitting a false insurance claim is acceptable, The Age newspaper reported.

These findings may suggest a significant number of the country's young people are dishonest. But are they more ethical than they used to be?
Curiously, that could be so, according to research by Larry Neale of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and his American colleague Sam Fullerton from Eastern Michigan University.

Professor Fullerton began the research in the 1990s by surveying a sample of more than 3700 university students in 10 countries of five continents. Their attitudes were observed in 14 different customer scenarios, ranging from legal to illegal, with a few questionable acts in between.

The students were presented with examples that described the behaviour of an anonymous third person. They were asked to indicate if this was acceptable or unacceptable, using a six-point scale.

A typical scenario would be: "A co-worker was given too much change from the shop assistant at the corner bakery. Your co-worker kept the extra money."
Citing example of consumer acts, Dr Neale said: "instead of having to buy tickets at the cinema, you can print them out at home.

"So a parent has the option of thinking, 'Should I pay the full adult price for my 13-year-old son or print out a ticket for a 12-year-old for only half the price and hope I don't get questioned?'"

"We then asked whether they thought this type of behaviour was acceptable or unacceptable."

Most of the students were studying in business schools in Australia and New Zealand, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, while the rest were drawn from other faculties.
Analysis showed that Australian and American students tended to adopt a centrist attitude and were not as critical of the behaviours described as those from other countries. Asians and Africans were most critical, while European students were more liberal or accepting of the behaviours.

Dr Neale says the unfortunate reality is that there is "a dark side to consumer behaviour" and the results show that consumers do know that illegal activities such as filing a false insurance claim are unethical.

Whether the decision was to keep excess change or to commit fraud, some students felt such actions were justifiable. Perhaps this was a result of the all too commonly held perception by consumers that businesses were solely focused on "profit maximisation".
"As a consequence, far too many consumers view their own misbehaviour as a way of levelling the playing field," Dr Neale says. "Either the business wins or the consumer wins in this zero-sum game."

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