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Social norms and dishonesty across societies


  • Diego Aycinena

    (a Department of Economics, Universidad del Rosario, Bogotá DC 111711, Colombia;; b Economic Science Institute, Chapman University, Orange, CA 92866;)

  • Lucas Rentschler

    (b Economic Science Institute, Chapman University, Orange, CA 92866;; c Department of Economics and Finance, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322;; d Center for Growth and Opportunity, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322;)

  • Benjamin Beranek

    (e Department of Economics, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO 65897;)

  • Jonathan F. Schulz

    (f Department of Economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030)


Much of the research in the experimental and behavioral sciences finds that stronger prosocial norms lead to higher levels of prosocial behavior. Here, we show that very strict prosocial norms are negatively correlated with prosocial behavior. Using laboratory experiments on honesty, we demonstrate that individuals who hold very strict norms of honesty are more likely to lie to the maximal extent. Further, countries with a larger fraction of people with very strict civic norms have proportionally more societal-level rule violations. We show that our findings are consistent with a simple behavioral rationale. If perceived norms are so strict that they do not differentiate between small and large violations, then, conditional on a violation occurring, a large violation is individually optimal.

Suggested Citation

  • Diego Aycinena & Lucas Rentschler & Benjamin Beranek & Jonathan F. Schulz, 2022. "Social norms and dishonesty across societies," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 119(31), pages 2120138119-, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:nas:journl:v:119:y:2022:p:e2120138119

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    Cited by:

    1. Bartling, Björn & Özdemir, Yagiz, 2023. "The limits to moral erosion in markets: Social norms and the replacement excuse," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 143-160.


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