How honest is the average person? – New study explores people's views of morality and likelihood of feeling remorse for wrongdoing

If you accidentally dented someone’s car late at night, would you leave a note? Would you feel bad for stealing a promotion-worthy idea? Researchers at PsychTests put people on the moral hotseat.

MONTREAL, May 14, 2022 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — How honest was “Honest Abe,” aka Abraham Lincoln? One story tells of his job as a store clerk where he would tirelessly track down customers if he had accidentally short-changed them. Another tells of a reporter who was writing Lincoln’s 1860 biography, and had mistakenly assumed that the soon-to-be president was well-versed on Plutarch. Lincoln not only made it a point to buy and read one of Plutarch’s books, he also informed the reporter of what he had done. Although it would be fair to say that most people these days are not nearly as much of a stickler for honesty as Abraham Lincoln was, research from reveals that on average, the majority are fairly honorable.

Analyzing data collected from 5,395 people who took the Integrity and Work Ethics Test, PsychTests’ researchers examined how people would behave in different moral dilemmas. Here’s what their statistics reveal:


> 9% of people think it’s acceptable to keep extra change ($5) instead of returning it to the cashier.
> If they found a wallet in a restaurant bathroom, 6% feel it’s okay to take all the money inside but give the rest of the wallet, including the credit cards, to the manager.
> 45% believe it’s fine to cross the street on a red light if there are no cars around.
> 39% have no problem with a mother who allows her child to take packets of condiments from a restaurant.
> 19% agree with a father who tells his 13-year-old to pretend to be 11 in order to get into a movie for free.
> 19% don’t feel there is anything wrong with illegally downloading music.
> 16% think it’s acceptable to buy pirated copies of movies.
> 6% believe it would be fair to keep a package of imported foods if the mailman accidentally delivered it to the wrong address.
> 10% have nothing against someone who throws their cigarette butt on the sidewalk.
> 37% are fine with a teenager who visits a popular makeup boutique in order to get free samples rather than purchasing what she wants.
> If a person accidentally dents a car late at night, 5% of people think it’s okay not to leave a note and to simply drive off.

Once a rule is broken or a dishonest act is committed, some people may struggle with a guilty conscience and some may not. Here is what PsychTests’ study revealed about people who feel only somewhat remorseful or not remorseful at all after committing a transgression:

> 36% would not feel very remorseful for breaking a piece of equipment at work and covering it up.
> 21% would not feel very remorseful for allowing a colleague to take the fall for a mistake they themselves made.
> 22% would not feel very remorseful for making a hurtful comment that caused a colleague to spend the rest of the day crying.
> 56% would not feel very remorseful for accidentally eating a colleague’s lunch.
> 23% would not feel very remorseful for spreading a rumor that prevented a colleague from getting the promotion that they themselves wanted.
> 63% would not feel very remorseful for refusing to help a new (and panicky) junior employee prepare for a presentation.
> 21% would not feel very remorseful for stealing a colleague’s idea and getting a raise and promotion as a result of their brilliant (but pinched) contribution.

“Honesty may appear as a black-and-white issue, but what is perceived as unseemly is very much a question of perspective influenced by many different factors. On the extremes it is pretty much unanimous, but in between lies a huge area in different shades of gray. Many people feel that certain acts of dishonesty can be rationalized,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “Take theft, for example. Ask the average person whether they think it’s right or wrong to steal, and most would probably say that it’s generally wrong, but that it also depends on the situation. When we asked participants the circumstances in which an employee should be pardoned for minor theft – food, supplies – 41% said the person should be let off the hook if he or she puts in a lot of overtime and asks for little in return. Another 39% said it’s forgivable if the employee is having financial problems.”

“And here’s an interesting statistic that really puts this attitude in perspective: The average score on our honesty test was 68, indicating that most people are fairly upstanding,” continues Dr. Jerabek. “However, we also assessed people’s level of altruism, accountability, and empathy, and the averages were 80, 75, and 73 respectively. What this tells us is that for many people, honesty is not so much about good or bad as it is about intent. Sometimes, dishonesty stems from fear, desperation, or frustration after years of unfair treatment. This is not to say that a lack of integrity can be justified, but perhaps we need to ponder the complexity of human existence and the particular circumstances before we cast a harsh judgement.”

Want to assess you level of honesty? Check out the Integrity and Work Ethics Test by visiting

Professional users, such as HR managers, coaches, and therapists, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

Media Contact

Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D, PsychTests AIM Inc., 5147453189, [email protected]


SOURCE PsychTests AIM Inc.

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