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