London: A new survey of public attitudes to deceitful behaviour has shown that men and women's views of what is dishonest vary greatly.
Released at the British Science Festival at Surrey University, Guildford, the study conducted by two academic criminologists has shown that women are more likely than men to categorise some behaviour as dishonest, although men are more likely than women to convict someone of a dishonest crime in a court of law.
The online study analysed the attitude of some 15,000 participants to 50 different scenarios in 10 categories that involved varying degrees of dishonest behaviour, from claiming for an expensive insurance fraud to eating grapes in a supermarket without paying for them.
It was carried out with a view to testing a central thesis of what constitutes dishonesty in law, namely that dishonesty as a state of mind is based legally upon the "ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people".
"The law is based on an assumption that the majority in society hold the same views about what conduct is dishonest," the Independent quoted Stefan Fafinski, a criminal lawyer at Brunel University, who carried out the study, as saying.
"Our research challenges that assumption. We found a great deal of disagreement, even upon very basic situations," Dr Fafinski added.
The researchers observed that 31 percent of people thought it dishonest for someone to keep money found in the street, yet only 8 percent would convict someone of theft for doing that if they were prosecuted.
According to them, about two thirds of the people surveyed said that they had taken stationery home from work, but 82 percent thought it dishonest.
The researchers further revealed that they found big discrepancies between online crime and physical crime.
They said that about 97 percent of the subjects thought it to be dishonest to take a DVD from a shop, yet only 58 percent thought it dishonest to download pirated music, and 49 percent said it was dishonest to buy a pirate DVD.
They revealed that only 43 percent of the participants believed that it was dishonest for a carer to try to persuade an elderly person to change their will in their favour.
Twice as many thought it dishonest to wear a dress before returning it to the shop, said the researchers.
Their study showed that only 21 per cent of the participants would convict a carer of such an offence.
Some 98 percent of women considered it dishonest for a man to conduct an online romance behind his wife's back, but only 74 percent of men agreed.
"Women are more likely to categorise a person's conduct as dishonest but less likely to convict that person of the offence. Female participants are more likely to excuse conduct by reference to the circumstances or character of the person involved," said Dr Emily Finch, a criminologist at Brunel University.
First Published: Monday, September 07, 2009, 12:19