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When in Rome: conformity and the provision of public goods

  • Carpenter, Jeffrey P.

We ask whether conformity, copying the most observed behavior in a population, can affect free riding in a public goods situation. Our model suggests that, if free riding is sufficiently frequent at the start of a public goods game, conformity will increase the growth rate of free riding. We confirm this prediction in the experimental lab by showing that more free riding occurs when players have information about the distribution of contributions than when players know only the aggregate contribution level. As a stricter test, we econometrically estimate the dynamic on which the model is based and find that, controlling for the payoff incentive to free ride, players react significantly to the number of free riders in their groups. Further, conformity is significantly stronger when players have more information about the choices of others.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics).

Volume (Year): 33 (2004)
Issue (Month): 4 (September)
Pages: 395-408

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Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:33:y:2004:i:4:p:395-408
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/620175

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  18. Sethi, Rajiv, 1996. "Evolutionary stability and social norms," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 113-140, January.
  19. Anderson, Lisa R & Holt, Charles A, 1997. "Information Cascades in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 847-62, December.
  20. George A. Akerlof, 1997. "Social Distance and Social Decisions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(5), pages 1005-1028, September.
  21. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  22. Friedman, Daniel, 1996. "Equilibrium in Evolutionary Games: Some Experimental Results," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(434), pages 1-25, January.
  23. Croson, Rachel & Marks, Melanie, 2001. "The Effect of Recommended Contributions in the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(2), pages 238-49, April.
  24. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
  25. Miller, John H. & Andreoni, James, 1991. "Can evolutionary dynamics explain free riding in experiments?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 9-15, May.
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