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Public Implementation Eliminates Detrimental Effects of Punishment on Human Cooperation

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  • Xiao, Erte

    ()
    (Carnegie Mellon University)

  • Houser, Daniel

    ()
    (George Mason University)

Abstract

Development of human societies requires cooperation among unrelated individuals and obedience to social norms. Although punishment is widely agreed to be potentially useful in fostering cooperation, many recent results in psychology and economics highlight punishments' failures in this regard. These studies ignore punishments' social effects, and particularly its role in promoting social norms. We show here, using experiments with human subjects, that public implementation of punishment can eliminate its detrimental effects on cooperation. In a public goods game designed to create tension between group and individual interests, we find that privately implemented punishment reduces cooperation relative to a baseline treatment without punishment. However, when that same incentive is implemented publicly, but anonymously, cooperation is sustained at significantly higher rates than in both baseline and private punishment treatments. These data support our hypothesis that public implementation of punishment enhances the salience of the violated social norm to both the punished and those who observed the punishment, and that this increased salience positively affects group members' norm obedience. Our findings point to the importance of accounting for social consequences of punishment when designing procedures to deter misconduct in social environments including schools, companies, markets and courts.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 1977.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp1977

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Keywords: social norms; experiments; behavioral economics; punishment; public goods game; cooperation;

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  1. Elster, Jon, 1989. "Social Norms and Economic Theory," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 99-117, Fall.
  2. Fehr, Ernst & Falk, Armin, 2002. "Psychological foundations of incentives," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(4-5), pages 687-724, May.
  3. Uri Gneezy & Aldo Rustichini, 2000. "A fine is a price," Natural Field Experiments 00258, The Field Experiments Website.
  4. Erte Xiao & Daniel Houser, 2005. "Emotion expression in human punishment behavior," Experimental, EconWPA 0504003, EconWPA, revised 18 May 2005.
  5. Rachel Croson & James Sundali, 2005. "The Gambler’s Fallacy and the Hot Hand: Empirical Data from Casinos," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 30(3), pages 195-209, May.
  6. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, 1999. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," CESifo Working Paper Series 183, CESifo Group Munich.
  7. Ernst Fehr & Bettina Rockenbach, 2003. "Detrimental effects of sanctions on human altruism," Microeconomics, EconWPA 0305007, EconWPA.
  8. Elster, Jon, 1996. "Rationality and the Emotions," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(438), pages 1386-97, September.
  9. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2004. "Social norms and human cooperation," Macroeconomics, EconWPA 0409026, EconWPA.
  10. Bruno S. Frey & Reto Jegen, 2000. "Motivation Crowding Theory: A Survey of Empirical Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 245, CESifo Group Munich.
  11. Iris Bohnet & Bruno S. Frey & Steffen Huck, . "More Order with Less Law: On Contract Enforcement, Trust, and Crowding," IEW - Working Papers 052, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  12. Camerer, Colin F, 1989. "Does the Basketball Market Believe in the 'Hot Hand'?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1257-61, December.
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