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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 23, 2019

A Psychometric Investigation of the Personality Traits Underlying Individual Tax Morale

  • Nicolas Jacquemet , Stéphane Luchini , Antoine Malézieux EMAIL logo and Jason F. Shogren


Why do people pay taxes? Rational choice theory has fallen short in answering this question. Another explanation, called “tax morale”, has been promoted. Tax morale captures the behavioral idea that non-monetary preferences (like norm-submission, moral emotions and moral judgments) might be better determinants of tax compliance than monetary trade-offs. Herein we report on two lab experiments designed to assess whether norm-submission, moral emotions (e.g. affective empathy, cognitive empathy, propensity to feel guilt and shame) or moral judgments (e.g. ethics principles, integrity, and moralization of everyday life) can help explain compliance behavior. Although we find statistically significant correlations of tax compliance behavior with empathy and shame, the economic significance of these correlations are low–—more than 80% of the variability in compliance remains unexplained. These results suggest that tax authorities should focus on the institutional context, rather than individual preference characteristics, to handle tax evasion.

JEL Classification: C9; D03; H26; H31


We thank James Alm, Cécile Bazart, Todd Cherry, Taya Cohen, Elisa Darriet, Marine Hainguerlot, Erich Kirchler, Nils Myszkowski, Drazen Prelec, Claire Vandendriessche, Marie-Claire Villeval, and Franck Zenasni for their comments and the helpful discussions from which we benefited in the development of this work. We also thank Kene Boun My for his assistance in running the experiments. The authors thank the Conseil Régional de Lorraine for its financial support. We also thank the University of Alaska-Anchorange for their support when writing up this project.


A Description of the questionnaires used in Experiment 1

QuestionnairesSub-scalesMeasuresDescriptionNb of items
Concern for Appropriateness Scale (CAS)Cross-Situational Variability of Behavior (CSV)Behavioral variabilityCSV taps the behavioral variability that is a consequence of continually tailoring one’s actions so as to avoid disapproval7
Attention to Social Comparison Information (ATSCI)Tendency to compare behaviorMany of the items of the ATSCI subscale have a defensive connotation and of behavior comparison13
Questionnaire for Cognitive and Affective Empathy (QCAE)Perspective Taking (PT)Intuitive perspective takingIntuitively putting oneself in another person’s shoes in order to see things from his/her perspective10
Online Simulation (OS)Costly perspective takingAn effortful attempt to put oneself in another person’s position by imagining what that person is feeling. Online simulation is likely to be used for future intentions9
Emotion Contagion (EC)Emotional contagionThe automatic mirroring of the feelings of others4
Peripheral Responsivity (PERIR)Mood transmission in a detached social contextThe affective response when witnessing the mood of others in a detached social context4
Proximal Responsivity (PROXR)Mood transmission in a closed social contextThe affective response when witnessing the mood of others in a close social context4
Guilt And Shame Proneness (GASP)Guilt - Negative Behavior-Evaluations (NBE)GuiltGuilt - NBE items describe feeling bad about how one acted4
Guilt - Repair responses (GR)Correction of transgressionsGuilt - repair items describe action tendencies (i.e. behavior or behavioral intentions) focused on correcting or compensating for the transgression4
Shame - Negative Self-Evaluations (NSE)ShameShame - NSE items describe feeling bad about oneself4
Shame - Withdrawal Responses (SW)Willingness to hide oneselfShame - withdraw items describe action tendencies focused on hiding or withdrawing from public4

B Description of the questionnaires used in Experiment 2

QuestionnaireSub-scalesMeasuresDescriptionNb of items
Ethics Position Questionnaire (EPQ)RelativismThe extent to which the individual rejects universal moral rules in favor of relativismSome individuals use moral absolutes in making moral judgments. Others do not rely on such universal moral rules10
IdealismThe extent to which the individual idealizes moral rulesSome individuals believe that “right” actions will always produce beneficial consequences. Others think that beneficial consequences will be mixed with non-beneficial ones10
Integrity scale (IS)IntegrityLevel of integrityHigher integrity involves personal commitment to moral identity that increases positive activities and reduces illicit temptations18
Moralization of Everyday Life Scale (MELS)Factor 1Use of deceptionLying or cheating to get something that one should not have had in the first place5
Factor 2Social norm violations that harm community membersViolations of social norm that harm community members5
Factor 3LazinessBehaviors adopted because of laziness5
Factor 4Failures to do goodFailures to take an opportunity to act in a good way for the community5
Factor 5Violations of the bodyUse or modifications of the body in ways that threaten body purity5
Factor 6Disgusting behaviorsBehaviors that are related to animal-like aspect of human nature5

C Additional statistics on Experiment 1

Figure 3: Declared and earned income in the first experiment.
Figure 3:

Declared and earned income in the first experiment.

Table 9:

Correlation matrix of the variables from the first experiment.


D Additional statistics on Experiment 2

Figure 4: Earned and declared (for WWF) income in the second experiment.
Figure 4:

Earned and declared (for WWF) income in the second experiment.

Table 10:

Correlation matrix of the variables from the second experiment.

F2-Norm violation0.1388–0.0981–0.02820.48771.0000
F5-Body violations0.1517–0.06200.25010.54840.27960.62870.54421.0000
Table 11:

Multivariate regressions of compliance (for ASPAS) decisions on psychometric scores.

VariableCoef.(St. e.)
 _F2-Norm violation0.002(0.012)
 _F5-Body violations0.005(0.012)


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