Private and Public Decisions in Social Dilemmas: Evidence from ChildrenÕs Behavior
Substantial research with adult populations has found that selfish impulses are less likely to be pursued when decisions are publicly observable. To the best of our knowledge, however, this behavioral regularity has not been systematically explored as potential solution to social dilemmas. This paper takes a step in that direction. We report data on the self-control decisions of children aged 6 to 11 who participated in games that require one to resist a selfish impulse for several minutes in order to benefit others. In one condition children make decisions in public view of the group of other participants, while in another they can make decisions either publicly or privately. In both conditions, we allow the group size to vary. We find that children aged 9 and higher are better able to resist selfish impulses in public environments. Younger children, however, display no such effect. Further, we find self-control substantially impacted by group size. When decisions are public, larger groups lead to better self-control, while in the private condition the opposite holds. Our findings suggest that announcing decisions publicly and to large groups may be part of a solution to some social dilemmas. In addition, the fact that public decision-making promotes pro-social behavior only in older children suggests this positive effect may stem from a desire to avoid shame. Length: 28
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