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An experimental investigation of why individuals conform

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  • Basit Zafar

Abstract

Social interdependence is believed to play an important role in how people make individual choices. This paper presents a simple model constructed on the premise that people are motivated by their own payoff as well as by how their actions compare with those of other people in their reference group. I show that conformity of actions may arise either from learning about the norm (social learning), or from adhering to the norm because of image-related concerns (social influence). To disentangle the two empirically, I use the fact that image-related concerns can be present only if actions are publicly observable. The model predictions are tested in a "charitable contribution" experiment in which the actions and identities of the subjects are unmasked in a controlled and systematic way. Both social learning and social influence seem to play an important role in the subjects' choices. In addition, individuals gain utility simply by making the same choice as the reference group (social comparison) and change their contributions in the direction of the social norm even when their identities are hidden. Once the identities and contribution distributions of group members are revealed, individuals conform to the modal choice of the group. Moreover, I find that social ties (defined as subjects knowing one another from outside the experimental environment) affect the role of social influence. In particular, a low-contribution norm evolves that causes individuals to contribute less in the presence of people they know.

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  • Basit Zafar, 2009. "An experimental investigation of why individuals conform," Staff Reports 365, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:365
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel John Zizzo, 2012. "Inducing natural group identity: A RDP analysis," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) 12-01, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    2. Buechel, Berno & Hellmann, Tim & Klößner, Stefan, 2015. "Opinion dynamics and wisdom under conformity," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 52(C), pages 240-257.
    3. Gigi Foster & Leslie S. Stratton, 2019. "What women want (their men to do): Housework and Satisfaction in Australian Households," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(3), pages 23-47, July.
    4. Schüssler, Katharina & Schüssler, Michael & Mühlbauer, Daniel, 2018. "Individual Differences and Contribution Sequences in Threshold Public Goods," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 88, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    5. Delfino, Alexia & Marengo, Luigi & Ploner, Matteo, 2016. "I did it your way. An experimental investigation of peer effects in investment choices," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 113-123.
    6. Dimant, Eugen & Deutscher, Christian, 2014. "The Economics of Corruption in Sports – The Special Case of Doping," MPRA Paper 60566, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Karakostas, Alexandros & Zizzo, Daniel John, 2016. "Compliance and the power of authority," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 67-80.
    8. Wolff, Irenaeus, 2009. "Counterpunishment revisited: an evolutionary approach," MPRA Paper 16923, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. repec:spr:soinre:v:134:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-016-1431-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Daniel Stone & Basit Zafar, 2014. "Do we follow others when we should outside the lab? Evidence from the AP top 25," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 49(1), pages 73-102, August.
    11. Ankita Mishra & Jaai Parasnis, 2014. "An Empirical Investigation of Peer effects on Fertility Preferences," Monash Economics Working Papers 34-14, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    12. repec:eee:joepsy:v:70:y:2019:i:c:p:36-51 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Shoji, Masahiro, 2013. "Guilt aversion and peer effects in crime: experimental and empirical evidence from Bangladesh," MPRA Paper 44746, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Masahiro Shoji, 2014. "Channels of Peer Effects and Guilt Aversion in Crime: Experimental and Empirical Evidence from Bangladesh," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-923, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.
    15. Dimant, Eugen, 2015. "On Peer Effects: Behavioral Contagion of (Un)Ethical Behavior and the Role of Social Identity," MPRA Paper 68732, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    16. Figureau, A.-G. & Montginoul, M. & Rinaudo, J.-D., 2015. "Policy instruments for decentralized management of agricultural groundwater abstraction: A participatory evaluation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 147-157.
    17. B. Douglas Bernheim & Christine L. Exley, 2015. "Understanding Conformity: An Experimental Investigation," Harvard Business School Working Papers 16-070, Harvard Business School.
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    19. Ryota Nakamura & Marc Suhrcke & Daniel John Zizzo, 2017. "A triple test for behavioral economics models and public health policy," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 83(4), pages 513-533, December.

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    Human behavior ; Social choice;

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