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Does Social Judgment Diminish Rule Breaking?

  • Timothy C. Salmon
  • Danila Serra

We experimentally investigate the extent to which social observability of one’s actions and the possibility of social non-monetary judgment affect the decision to engage in rule breaking behavior. We consider three rule breaking scenarios — theft, bribery and embezzlement — in the absence of any formal enforcement mechanism. By involving a student sample characterized by cultural heterogeneity due to immigration of ancestors to the US, we are able to investigate whether the effectiveness of informal social enforcement mechanisms is conditional on the cultural background of the decision-maker. A total of 52 countries are represented in our sample, ranging from Low Rule of Law countries such as Liberia and Nigeria to High Rule of Law countries such as Sweden and Norway. Our data provide evidence that people with different cultural backgrounds do respond differently to increased social observability of their actions. In particular, while subjects that identify culturally with a High Rule of Law country respond to social obervability and judgment by lowering their propensities to engage in rule breaking, subjects that identify with Low Rule of Law countries do not. Our findings suggest that development policies that rely purely on social judgment to enforce behavior may not work with Low Rule of Law populations.

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Paper provided by Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford in its series CSAE Working Paper Series with number 2013-05.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:2013-05
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  1. Stefano DellaVigna & John A. List & Ulrike Malmendier, 2009. "Testing for Altruism and Social Pressure in Charitable Giving," NBER Working Papers 15629, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Simon Gaechter & Benedikt Herrmann & Christian Thoeni, 2010. "Culture and Cooperation," Discussion Papers 2010-09, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  3. López-Pérez, Raúl & Vorsatz, Marc, 2010. "On approval and disapproval: Theory and experiments," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 527-541, August.
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