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Compliance by Believing: An Experimental Exploration on Social Norms and Impartial Agreements


  • Marco Faillo

    () (University of Trento - Faculty of Economics)

  • Stefania Ottone

    () (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)

  • Lorenzo Sacconi

    () (University of Trento - Faculty of Economics)


The main contribution of this paper is twofold. First of all, it focuses on the decisional process that leads to the creation of a social norm. Secondly, it analyses the mechanisms through which subjects conform their behaviour to the norm. In particular, our aim is to study the role and the nature of Normative and Empirical Expectations and their influence on people's decisions. The tool is the Exclusion Game, a sort of 'triple mini-dictator game'. It represents a situation where 3 subjects - players A - have to decide how to allocate a sum S among themselves and a fourth subject - player B - who has no decisional power. The experiment consists of three treatments. In the Baseline Treatment participants are randomly distributed in groups of four players and play the Exclusion Game. In the Agreement Treatment in each group participants are invited to vote for a specific non-binding allocation rule before playing the Exclusion Game. In the Outsider Treatment, after the voting procedure and before playing the Exclusion Game, a player A for each group (the outsider) is reassigned to a different group and instructed about the rule chosen by the new group. In all the treatments, at the end of the game and before players are informed about the decisions taken during the Exclusion Game by the other co-players, first order and second order expectations (both normative and empirical) are elicited through a brief questionnaire. The first result we obtained is that subjects' choices are in line with their empirical (not normative) expectations. The second result is that even a non-binding agreement induces convergence of empirical expectations - and, consequently, of choices. The third results is that expectation of conformity is higher in the partner protocol. This implies that a single outsider breaks the 'trust and cooperation' equilibrium.

Suggested Citation

  • Marco Faillo & Stefania Ottone & Lorenzo Sacconi, 2008. "Compliance by Believing: An Experimental Exploration on Social Norms and Impartial Agreements," Econometica Working Papers wp02, Econometica, revised Aug 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:ent:wpaper:wp02

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, "undated". "Third Party Punishment and Social Norms," IEW - Working Papers 106, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    2. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
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    5. Bicchieri, Cristina & Erte, Xiao, 2007. "Do the right thing: But only if others do so," MPRA Paper 4609, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Cinzia Di Novi, 2007. "An Economic Evaluation of Life-Style and Air-pollution-related Damages: Results from the BRFSS," JEPS Working Papers 07-001, JEPS.
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    11. Marco Faillo & Lorenzo Sacconi, 2007. "Norm compliance: the contribution of behavioral economics models," Department of Economics Working Papers 0704, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
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    13. Gianluca Grimalda & Lorenzo Sacconi, 2005. "The Constitution of the Not-For-Profit Organisation: Reciprocal Conformity to Morality," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 249-276, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nese, Annamaria & Sbriglia, Patrizia, 2009. "Social norms in repeated public good games," Research in Economics, Elsevier, vol. 63(4), pages 266-281, December.
    2. Annamaria Nese & Patrizia Sbriglia, 2009. "Individuals' Voting Choice and Cooperation in Repeated Social Dilemma Games," Labsi Experimental Economics Laboratory University of Siena 025, University of Siena.
    3. Lorenzo Sacconi, 2010. "A Rawlsian View of CSR and the Game Theory of its Implementation (III): Conformism, Equilibrium Refinement and Selection," Econometica Working Papers wp24, Econometica.
    4. Pedro FrancŽs-G—mez & Lorenzo Sacconi & Marco Faillo, 2012. "Behavioral Business Ethics as a Method for Normative Business Ethics," Econometica Working Papers wp42, Econometica.

    More about this item


    fairness; social norms; beliefs; psychological games; experimental games;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values

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