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Social Norms, Information and Trust among Strangers: Theory and Evidence

Can a social norm of trust and reciprocity emerge among strangers? We investigate this question by examining behavior in an experiment where subjects repeatedly play a two-player binary ―trust‖ game. Players are randomly and anonymously paired with one another in each period. The main questions addressed are whether a social norm of trust and reciprocity emerges under the most extreme information restriction (anonymous community-wide enforcement) or whether trust and reciprocity require additional, individual-specific information about a player’s past history of play and whether that information must be provided freely or at some cost. In the absence of such reputational information, we find that a social norm of trust and reciprocity is difficult to sustain. The provision of reputational information on past individual decisions significantly increases trust and reciprocity, with longer histories yielding the best outcomes. Importantly, we find that making reputational information available at a small cost may also lead to a significant improvement in trust and reciprocity, despite the fact that most subjects do not choose to purchase this information.

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Paper provided by Concordia University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 08007.

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Length: 49 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2008
Date of revision: Jul 2001
Handle: RePEc:crd:wpaper:08007
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  1. Pedro Dal Bo, 2001. "Social Norms, Cooperation and Inequality," UCLA Economics Working Papers 802, UCLA Department of Economics.
  2. Duffy, John & Ochs, Jack, 2009. "Cooperative behavior and the frequency of social interaction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 785-812, July.
  3. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:114:y:1999:i:3:p:817-868 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1999. "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Munich Reprints in Economics 20650, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  5. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  6. Kandori, Michihiro, 1992. "Social Norms and Community Enforcement," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(1), pages 63-80, January.
  7. Gary E. Bolton & Elena Katok & Axel Ockenfels, 2004. "How Effective Are Electronic Reputation Mechanisms? An Experimental Investigation," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(11), pages 1587-1602, November.
  8. Martin Brown & Christian Zehnder, 2007. "Credit Reporting, Relationship Banking, and Loan Repayment," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 39(8), pages 1883-1918, December.
  9. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  10. Paul R. Milgrom & Douglass C. North & Barry R. Weingast, 1990. "The Role Of Institutions In The Revival Of Trade: The Law Merchant, Private Judges, And The Champagne Fairs," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 2(1), pages 1-23, 03.
  11. Gabriele Camera & Marco Casari, 2009. "Cooperation among Strangers under the Shadow of the Future," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 979-1005, June.
  12. Bolton, Gary E. & Katok, Elena & Ockenfels, Axel, 2005. "Cooperation among strangers with limited information about reputation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(8), pages 1457-1468, August.
  13. Ellison, Glenn, 1994. "Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma with Anonymous Random Matching," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 61(3), pages 567-88, July.
  14. Greif, Avner, 1993. "Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: the Maghribi Traders' Coalition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 525-48, June.
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