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Being the best or doing the right thing? An investigation of positional, prosocial and conformist preferences in provision of public goods


  • Grolleau, Gilles
  • Ibanez, Lisette
  • Mzoughi, Naoufel


Based on a simple theoretical framework, we show that when individuals exhibit positional, prosocial or conformist preferences which are endogenous, the end outcomes in terms of private provision of public goods can differ significantly from traditional neo-classical predictions. Indeed, when a given individual selects a specific subset of preferences according to what others do, he/she will contribute positively to the public good provision. We provide anecdotal evidence to support our theoretical analysis by using data from an Internet survey on a sample of French individuals. Analyses of individual responses confirm our theoretical arguments. For instance, we show that relative concerns matter, that is, for several environmental goods, people might prefer polluting more in absolute terms but less than others in society. Moreover, we also test whether people exhibit a social desirability bias and show that they attribute more (less) positional (prosocial) concerns to others in society.

Suggested Citation

  • Grolleau, Gilles & Ibanez, Lisette & Mzoughi, Naoufel, 2012. "Being the best or doing the right thing? An investigation of positional, prosocial and conformist preferences in provision of public goods," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 41(5), pages 705-711.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:41:y:2012:i:5:p:705-711 DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2012.07.001

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
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    3. Dan Ariely & Anat Bracha & Stephan Meier, 2009. "Doing Good or Doing Well? Image Motivation and Monetary Incentives in Behaving Prosocially," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 544-555, March.
    4. Fredrik Carlsson & Jorge García & Åsa Löfgren, 2010. "Conformity and the Demand for Environmental Goods," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 47(3), pages 407-421, November.
    5. Gerry Boyle & Kenneth Greene & Phillip Nelson & Mario Pagliero, 2007. "A Comparative Study of Student Demand for Status in Ireland, Italy and the United States," ICER Working Papers 01-2007, ICER - International Centre for Economic Research.
    6. Jean Tirole & Roland Bénabou, 2006. "Incentives and Prosocial Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1652-1678, December.
    7. Fredrik Carlsson & Olof Johansson-Stenman & Peter Martinsson, 2007. "Do You Enjoy Having More than Others? Survey Evidence of Positional Goods," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 74(296), pages 586-598, November.
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    9. Samuel Bowles, 1998. "Endogenous Preferences: The Cultural Consequences of Markets and Other Economic Institutions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 75-111, March.
    10. Grolleau, Gilles & Mzoughi, Naoufel & Saïd, Sandra, 2012. "Do you believe that others are more positional than you? Results from an empirical survey on positional concerns in France," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 48-54.
    11. Sara J. Solnick & David Hemenway, 2005. "Are Positional Concerns Stronger in Some Domains than in Others?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 147-151, May.
    12. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-877, October.
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    14. Celse, Jérémy, 2012. "Is the positional bias an artefact? Distinguishing positional concerns from egalitarian concerns," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 277-283.
    15. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Lisette IBANEZ & Nathalie MOUREAU & Sébastien ROUSSEL, 2012. "Emotions Incidentes et Comportements Pro-Environnementaux," Working Papers 12-29, LAMETA, Universtiy of Montpellier, revised Sep 2012.

    More about this item


    Positional concerns; Prosocial preferences; Public goods;

    JEL classification:

    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q50 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - General


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