IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Andreas Diekmann & Wojtek Przepiorka & Heiko Rauhut, 2011. "Lifting the veil of ignorance: An experiment on the contagiousness of norm violations," Discussion Papers 2011004, University of Oxford, Nuffield College.
  • Handle: RePEc:cex:dpaper:2011004

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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, Oxford University Press, vol. 35(3), pages 472-482, March.
    5. Abhijit V. Banerjee, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817.
    6. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Keuschnigg, Marc & Wolbring, Tobias, 2014. "Disorder, Social Capital, and Norm Violation: Three Field Experiments on the Broken Windows Thesis," MPRA Paper 57534, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Chorus, Caspar G., 2015. "Models of moral decision making: Literature review and research agenda for discrete choice analysis," Journal of choice modelling, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 69-85.
    3. Martin Dufwenberg Jr. & Martin Dufwenberg, 2016. "Lies in Disguise - A Theoretical Analysis of Cheating," CESifo Working Paper Series 6208, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Maggian, Valeria & Montinari, Natalia & Nicolò, Antonio, 2015. "Backscratching in Hierarchical Organizations," Working Papers 2015:10, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    5. repec:mhr:jinste:urn:sici:0932-4569(201706)173:2_376:adanab_2.0.tx_2-j is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Johannes Abeler & Daniele Nosenzo & Collin Raymond, 2016. "Preferences for Truth-Telling," CESifo Working Paper Series 6087, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. Christian Schitter & Jürgen Fleiß & Stefan Palan, 2017. "To claim or not to claim: Anonymity, reciprocal externalities and honesty," Working Paper Series, Social and Economic Sciences 2017-01, Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University Graz.
    8. Garbarino, Ellen & Slonim, Robert & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2016. "Loss Aversion and Lying Behavior: Theory, Estimation and Empirical Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 10395, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Ville Korpela, 2017. "All Deceptions Are Not Alike: Bayesian Mechanism Design with a Social Norm against Lying," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 173(2), pages 376-393, June.
    10. repec:wsi:acsxxx:v:16:y:2013:i:04n05:n:s0219525913500070 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Abeler, Johannes & Becker, Anke & Falk, Armin, 2014. "Representative evidence on lying costs," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 113(C), pages 96-104.
    12. Ostermaier, Andreas & Uhl, Matthias, 2017. "Spot On For Liars! How Public Scrutiny Influences Ethical Behavior," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168167, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    13. repec:oup:jleorg:v:34:y:2018:i:2:p:133-161. is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Social norms; social influence; cheating; lying; experimental sociology; conditional cooperation; Heinrich Popitz;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cex:dpaper:2011004. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wojtek Przepiorka). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.