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An experimental investigation of why individuals conform

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  • Basit Zafar

Abstract

Social interdependence is believed to play an important role in how people make individual choices. This paper presents a simple model constructed on the premise that people are motivated by their own payoff as well as by how their actions compare with those of other people in their reference group. I show that conformity of actions may arise either from learning about the norm (social learning), or from adhering to the norm because of image-related concerns (social influence). To disentangle the two empirically, I use the fact that image-related concerns can be present only if actions are publicly observable. The model predictions are tested in a "charitable contribution" experiment in which the actions and identities of the subjects are unmasked in a controlled and systematic way. Both social learning and social influence seem to play an important role in the subjects' choices. In addition, individuals gain utility simply by making the same choice as the reference group (social comparison) and change their contributions in the direction of the social norm even when their identities are hidden. Once the identities and contribution distributions of group members are revealed, individuals conform to the modal choice of the group. Moreover, I find that social ties (defined as subjects knowing one another from outside the experimental environment) affect the role of social influence. In particular, a low-contribution norm evolves that causes individuals to contribute less in the presence of people they know.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 365.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:365

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Keywords: Human behavior ; Social choice;

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Cited by:
  1. Büchel, Berno & Hellmann, Tim & Klößner, Stefan, 2013. "Opinion Dynamics and Wisdom under Conformity," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79770, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
  2. Wolff, Irenaeus, 2009. "Counterpunishment revisited: an evolutionary approach," MPRA Paper 16923, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Masahiro Shoji, 2014. "Channels of Peer Effects and Guilt Aversion in Crime: Experimental and Empirical Evidence from Bangladesh," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-923, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.
  4. Ryota Nakamura & Marc Suhrcke & Daniel John Zizzo, 2014. "A Triple Test for Behavioral Economics Models and Public Health Policy," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) 14-01, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
  5. Daniel John Zizzo, 2012. "Inducing natural group identity: A RDP analysis," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) 12-01, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
  6. Alexia Delfino & Luigi Marengo & Matteo Ploner, 2013. "I Did it Your Way. An Experimental Investigation of Peer Effects in Investment Choices," CEEL Working Papers 1305, Cognitive and Experimental Economics Laboratory, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  7. Shoji, Masahiro, 2013. "Guilt aversion and peer effects in crime: experimental and empirical evidence from Bangladesh," MPRA Paper 44746, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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