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Social Status and Peer-Punishment: Findings from Two Road Traffic Field Experiments


  • Ben Jann


  • Elisabeth Coutts


In a seminal experiment, Doob and Gross (1968) examined the influence of social status on peer-punishment of norm violations in traffic. They observed an inverse relationship between the economic status indicated by a car that was blocking an intersection and the punishment meted out to the driver of that car, with "punishment" taking the form of a honk of the car horn. In a more recent experiment, Diekmann et al. (1996) noted the status and reactions of the cars blocked by a single mid-status car. Blocked drivers at the wheel of a higher-status car were found to punish more aggressively than drivers of a lower-status car. Our study employs a combined design to separate the effects of driver and blocker status. In two field experiments, we varied the status of the norm-violating car and recorded the status of the blocked driver's (i.e. the experimental subject's) car. Our results provide evidence that social distance facilitates peer-punishment. Punishment was expressed less readily when the blocked and blocking cars indicated a similar social status.

Suggested Citation

  • Ben Jann & Elisabeth Coutts, 2017. "Social Status and Peer-Punishment: Findings from Two Road Traffic Field Experiments," University of Bern Social Sciences Working Papers 27, University of Bern, Department of Social Sciences.
  • Handle: RePEc:bss:wpaper:27

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Tiedens, Larissa Z., 2001. "Anger and Advancement versus Sadness and Subjugation: The Effect of Negative Emotion Expressions on Social Status Conferral," Research Papers 1615, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
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    More about this item


    social status; peer-punishment; horn honking; field experiment; road traffic;

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments

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