A Moral Compass?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Moral values are a notoriously tricky thing to measure. But the findings of a 2016 study conducted at INSEAD Business School suggest a surprisingly simple way to do so. From the list below (50 of the most-visited countries in the world), please tick off all those you have visited.

France, USA, Spain, Italy, China, UK, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Turkey, Macau, Cyprus, Malaysia, Dominican Republic, Quatar, Oman, Bahrain, Senegal, Namibia, Australia.

 What does this say about your morals?


0-5: A paragon of virtue

6-10: About average

11-20: A little slippery

20-50: Dick Dastardly


In a study of over 600 Montreal residents, the researchers found that the more countries a participant had ticked off, the more likely they were to cheat on a computerized trivia quiz (peeking at the answers when the experimenter had “accidentally” left them visible). In another part of the study, the researchers found that high-school students were more likely to cheat after than before taking part in a study-abroad programme. The researchers suggest that, the more we are immersed in foreign cultures, the more we come to view morality as relative, rather than absolute. It’s not all bad news, though: Previous studies have found that overseas travel is associated with increased creativity and decreased prejudice; so don’t go cancelling that new year break just yet.


A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

1 Comment

  1. I think there might also be an influence of travelers repeatedly experiencing being the outsider & having to think of ones own needs as separate from the collective group they’re living in. The more we experience/practice that community disconnectedness of being a visitor, while going through our daily needs, the more normal it becomes in all of our interpersonal/social interactions for life. A person who travels frequently, likely lives in a different culture based on a “We” that is not connected to their community/culture they ever physically live in. Higher travel most likely creates an “Us” & “Them” global social perspective.

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