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At the Mercy of the Prisoner Next Door. Using an Experimental Measure of Selfishness as a Criminological Tool

  • Thorsten Chmura

    (University of Bonn)

  • Christoph Engel


    (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn)

  • Markus Englerth


    (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn)

  • Thomas Pitz


    (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Bonn)

Do criminals maximise money? Are criminals more or less selfish than the average subject? Can prisons apply measures that reduce the degree of selfishness of their inmates? Using a tried and tested tool from experimental economics, we cast new light on these old criminological questions. In a standard dictator game, prisoners give a substantial amount, which calls for more refined versions of utility in rational choice theories of crime. Prisoners do not give less than average subjects, not even than subjects from other closely knit communities. This speaks against the idea that people commit crimes because they are excessively selfish. Finally those who receive better marks at prison school give more, as do those who improve their marks over time. This suggests that this correctional intervention also reduces selfishness.

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Paper provided by Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in its series Working Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods with number 2010_27.

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Date of creation: Jun 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:mpg:wpaper:2010_27
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