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Lifting the veil of ignorance: An experiment on the contagiousness of norm violations

  • Andreas Diekmann

    ()

    (Chair of Sociology, ETH Zurich)

  • Wojtek Przepiorka

    ()

    (Department of Sociology, University of Oxford)

  • Heiko Rauhut

    ()

    (Chair of Sociology in particular Modeling and Simulation, ETH Zurich)

Norm violations can be contagious. Previous research analyzed two mechanisms of why knowledge about others’ norm violations triggers its spread: (1) Actors lower their subjective beliefs about the probability or severity of punishment, or (2) they condition their compliance on others’ compliance. While earlier field studies could hardly disentangle both effects, we use a laboratory experiment which eliminated any punishment threat. Subjects (n = 466) could commit a violation of the honesty norm. They threw a die and were paid according to their reported number. Our design ruled out any possibility of personal identification so that subjects could lie about their thrown number and claim inflated payoffs without risking detection. The aggregate distribution of reported payoffs allowed determining the extent of liars in the population. Two treatments in which subjects were informed about lying behavior of others were compared to a control condition without information feedback. Distributions from a subsequent dice throw revealed that knowledge about liars triggered the spread of lying compared to the control condition. Our results demonstrate the contagiousness of norm violations, where actors imitate norm violations of others under the exclusion of strategic motives.

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File URL: http://cess-wb.nuff.ox.ac.uk/documents/DP2011/CESS_DP2011_004.pdf
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Paper provided by University of Oxford, Nuffield College in its series Discussion Papers with number 2011004.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cex:dpaper:2011004
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://cess-wb.nuff.ox.ac.uk/
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  1. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
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  4. Fischbacher, Urs & Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst, 2001. "Are people conditionally cooperative? Evidence from a public goods experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 397-404, June.
  5. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  6. Noah J. Goldstein & Robert B. Cialdini & Vladas Griskevicius, 2008. "A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels," Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 35(3), pages 472-482, 03.
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