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Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry

versão impressa ISSN 1516-4446versão On-line ISSN 1809-452X

Braz. J. Psychiatry vol.41 no.1 São Paulo jan./fev. 2019 

Letters to the Editor

Corruption: the culture of a society and/or personality factors?

Antonio de Pádua Serafim1  2

Daniel Martins de Barros1 

1Departamento e Instituto de Psiquiatria, Programa de Psicologia Forense, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil

2Programa de Pós-Graduação em Psicologia da Saúde, Universidade Metodista de São Paulo, São Bernardo do Campo, SP, Brazil

Corruption is a global challenge, hindering economic growth, reducing per capita income and negatively affecting the development of industry and commerce.1 Although present worldwide, it is mainly found in developing countries, especially those with low incomes and closed economies,1 very much like Brazil. The losses Brazil has endured because of corruption are difficult to calculate, but official estimates suggest that tens of billions of reais are lost annually. Such evidence of widespread corruption in the Brazilian scenario reinforces the need for conducting multidisciplinary studies, producing a better understanding of this phenomenon, and developing interventions to address it.

Despite a wealth of psychological and psychiatric research on criminal behavior, the scientific literature is still lacking when it comes to studies on corruption. Corruption is defined as the use of public power for personal benefit, and although no social phenomenon is reducible to the sphere of the individual, it has been recognized that individual personality is an important element in the adoption of behaviors and attitudes, with several negative personality traits having been associated with morally and ethically questionable behaviors.

There is a long tradition in psychology and psychiatry of studying personality traits associated with criminal behavior. It is known, for example, that certain disorders (such as antisocial personality disorder) are associated with aggression and criminality.2 In addition, the nuances of the various personality disorders often relate to different types of violent behavior: borderline personality disorder is more associated with interpersonal aggression than is antisocial personality disorder, which is a risk factor for “victimless” crimes, such as corruption.2 On the other hand, studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of conscientiousness, according to the five-factor model, are less likely to engage in deviant behavior.3 This observation is consistent with the theoretical model, since conscientiousness mainly relates to the degree of organizational capacity and evaluation of the necessary steps to reach an objective, in addition to persistence and motivation in objective-oriented behavior. Therefore, high levels of conscientiousness are related to greater perception of risk, which reduces criminal engagement.4

In addition to these aspects of personality, the large amounts of money embezzled in Brazil may also contribute to corruption, as, when high monetary values are involved, they tend to justify behaviors, shifting the perception of guilt from individuals to the money itself.4 As with crime in general, it is neither possible nor prudent to reduce the issue of corruption to a single biopsychological dimension. However, greater knowledge about the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon would undeniably contribute to addressing the problem of corruption more effectively.

Ayal et al.5 propose behavioral methods for reducing corruption based on scientific evidence, such as requesting a public declaration of ethics, which has been shown to reduce the risk of corruption by generating cognitive dissonance. Fostering this line of research among Brazilian scientists in mental health can make a great difference to the present and future of the country.


1. Svensson J. Eight questions about corruption. J Econ Perspect. 2005;19:19-42. [ Links ]

2. de Barros DM, de Pá dua Serafim A. Association between personality disorder and violent behavior pattern. Forensic Sci Int. 2008;179:19-22. [ Links ]

3. Van Gelder JL, De Vries RE. Traits and states: Integrating personality and affect into a model of criminal decision making. Criminology. 2012;50:637-71. [ Links ]

4. Xie W, Yu B, Zhou X, Sedikides C, Vohs K. Money, moral transgressions, and blame. J Consum Psychol. 2014;24:299-306. [ Links ]

5. Ayal S, Gino F, Barkan R, Ariely D. Three principles to REVISE people’s unethical behavior. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015;10:738-41. [ Links ]

Received: October 8, 2018; Accepted: November 26, 2018

Disclosure The authors report no conflicts of interest.

How to cite this article: Serafim AP, de Barros DM. Corruption: the culture of a society and/or personality factors? Braz J Psychiatry. 2019;41:95-96.

Creative Commons License This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.