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Norms, cognitive dissonance, and cooperative behaviour in laboratory experiments

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  • Philipp C. Wichardt

Abstract

Purpose – The paper emphasises the general relevance of social norms and social associations for cooperative behaviour in less or non-social economic contexts, focusing in particular on economic laboratory experiments, and to illustrate the underlying psychological driving forces. Design/methodology/approach – The argument focuses on the interplay between social norms, their psychological enforcement mechanism (cognitive dissonance) and context effects. Drawing on findings from both (social) psychology and experimental economics, it emphasises the relevance of social norms for cooperative behaviour also in less or non-social environments as often created in economic laboratory experiments. Moreover, the conditions for cognitive dissonance effects to occur are summarised and the corresponding behavioural effects are both highlighted and exemplified by means of various examples including the analysis of a specific data set. Findings – The discussion strongly suggests that the influence of common cooperative social norms is difficult to “anonymise away” in laboratory experiments or other less socially focused decision environments. Moreover, it provides a possible explanation for the occurrence of a variety of behavioural patterns often found in such settings, such as initially high but decreasing willingness to cooperate in social dilemmas. Practical implications – Emphasising the far reach of social aspects in economic decision making, the discussion may help in the design of institutions as it illustrates a widespread source of non-economic individual incentives. Originality/value – The argument addresses the idiosyncrasies of individual cooperative behaviour in situations where economic incentives should hinder such behaviour. Adding to earlier arguments which explain such cooperation, for example, by reference to fairness concerns or inequity aversion, the present discussion emphasises in particular the specific psychological driving forces behind such behaviour. In doing so, it establishes a clear link to the research on cognitive dissonance in psychology.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal International Journal of Social Economics.

Volume (Year): 39 (2012)
Issue (Month): 5 (May)
Pages: 342-356

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Handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:39:y:2012:i:5:p:342-356

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Web page: http://www.emeraldinsight.com

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Related research

Keywords: Cognitive dissonance; Experimentation; individual behaviour; Laboratory experiments; Social norms;

References

References listed on IDEAS
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  1. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, . "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," IEW - Working Papers 010, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  2. Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Psychology and Economics," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt8jd5z5j2, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  3. Fehr, Ernst & Kirchsteiger, Georg & Riedl, Arno, 1995. "Gift Exchange and Reciprocity in Competitive Experimental Markets," Economics Series 14, Institute for Advanced Studies.
  4. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt3d04q5sm, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
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  6. repec:att:wimass:9406 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2005. "Identity and the Economics of Organizations," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 9-32, Winter.
  8. Gary Charness & Martin Dufwenberg, 2006. "Promises and Partnership," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(6), pages 1579-1601, November.
  9. Guala,Francesco, 2005. "The Methodology of Experimental Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521618618, October.
  10. Georg Kirchsteiger & Martin Dufwenberg, 2004. "A theory of sequential reciprocity," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5899, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  11. Ernst Fehr, 2008. "On the Economics and Biology of Trust," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 154, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
  12. Martin Beckenkamp & Heike Hennig-Schmidt & Frank P. Maier-Rigaud, 2007. "Cooperation in Symmetric and Asymmetric Prisoner's Dilemma Games," Working Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2006_25, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
  13. Isaac, R Mark & Walker, James M, 1988. "Group Size Effects in Public Goods Provision: The Voluntary Contributions Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 103(1), pages 179-99, February.
  14. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2004. "Third-party punishment and social norms," Experimental 0409002, EconWPA.
  15. Martin Brown & Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr, 2004. "Relational Contracts and the Nature of Market Interactions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(3), pages 747-780, 05.
  16. James Andreoni, 1997. "Warm-glow versus cold-prickle: the effect of positive and negative framing on cooperation in experiments," Levine's Working Paper Archive 671, David K. Levine.
  17. Duffy, John & Ochs, Jack, 2009. "Cooperative behavior and the frequency of social interaction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 785-812, July.
  18. Hoffman Elizabeth & McCabe Kevin & Shachat Keith & Smith Vernon, 1994. "Preferences, Property Rights, and Anonymity in Bargaining Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 346-380, November.
  19. Philipp C. Wichardt, 2009. "A status-based motivation for behavioural altruism," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 36(8), pages 869-887, June.
  20. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
  21. Akerlof, George A & Dickens, William T, 1982. "The Economic Consequences of Cognitive Dissonance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(3), pages 307-19, June.
  22. Philipp C. Wichardt, 2011. "Identity, Utility, and Cooperative Behaviour: An Evolutionary Perspective," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 113, pages 418-443, 06.
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Cited by:
  1. Wichardt, Philipp C., 2007. "Why and How Identity Should Influence Utility," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 193, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.

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