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"Do the Right Thing:" The Effects of Moral Suasion on Cooperation

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  • Ernesto Dal Bó
  • Pedro Dal Bó

Abstract

The use of moral appeals to affect the behavior of others is pervasive (from the pulpit to ethics classes) but little is known about the effects of moral suasion on behavior. In a series of experiments we study whether moral suasion affects behavior in voluntary contribution games and mechanisms by which behavior is altered. We find that observing a message with a moral standard according to the golden rule or, alternatively, utilitarian philosophy, results in a significant but transitory increase in contributions above the levels observed for subjects that did not receive a message or received a message that advised them to contribute without a moral rationale. When players have the option of punishing each other after the contribution stage the effect of the moral messages on contributions becomes persistent: punishments and moral messages interact to sustain cooperation. We investigate the mechanism through which moral suasion operates and find it to involve both expectation- and preference-shifting effects. These results suggest that the use of moral appeals can be an effective way of promoting cooperation.

Suggested Citation

  • Ernesto Dal Bó & Pedro Dal Bó, 2009. ""Do the Right Thing:" The Effects of Moral Suasion on Cooperation," NBER Working Papers 15559, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15559
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    Cited by:

    1. Jérôme Hergueux & Nicolas Jacquemet & Stéphane Luchini & Jason Shogren, 2016. "Leveraging the Honor Code: Public Goods Contributions under Oath," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) halshs-01379060, HAL.
    2. Apesteguia, Jose & Funk, Patricia & Iriberri, Nagore, 2013. "Promoting rule compliance in daily-life: Evidence from a randomized field experiment in the public libraries of Barcelona," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 266-284.
    3. Cervellati, Matteo & Vanin, Paolo, 2013. "“Thou shalt not covet”: Prohibitions, temptation and moral values," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 15-28.
    4. Emeric Henry & Nicolas Jacquemet & Roberto Galbiati, 2017. "Spillovers, Persistence and Learning: Institutions and the Dynamics of Cooperation," Working Papers halshs-01613850, HAL.
    5. ITO Koichiro & IDA Takanori & TANAKA Makoto, 2015. "The Persistence of Moral Suasion and Economic Incentives: Field experimental evidence from energy demand," Discussion papers 15014, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    6. Chen, Daniel L. & Yeh, Susan, 2014. "The construction of morals," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 84-105.
    7. Kenju Kamei & Louis Putterman, 2015. "Reputation Transmission without Benefit to the Reporter: a Behavioral Underpinning of Markets in Experimental Focus," Working Papers 2015-9, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    8. Geoffroy de Clippel & Kareen Rozen, 2013. "Fairness through the Lens of Cooperative Game Theory: An Experimental Approach," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1925, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    9. Romaniuc Rustam, 2016. "What Makes Law to Change Behavior? An Experimental Study," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 12(2), pages 447-475, July.
    10. Ognedal, Tone, 2016. "Morality in the market," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 100-115.
    11. Bott, Kristina Maria & Cappelen, Alexander W. & Sørensen, Erik Ø. & Tungodden, Bertil, 2017. "You’ve got mail: A randomised Field experiment on tax evasion," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 10/2017, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    12. Leonardo Bursztyn & Stefano Fiorin & Daniel Gottlieb & Martin Kanz, 2015. "Moral Incentives in Credit Card Debt Repayment: Evidence from a Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 21611, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Bernd Irlenbusch & Marie Claire Villeval, 2015. "Behavioral ethics: how psychology influenced economics and how economics might inform psychology?," Post-Print halshs-01159696, HAL.
    14. Bursztyn,Leonardo A. & Fiorin,Stefano & Gottlieb,Daniel Wolf & Kanz,Martin, 2015. "Moral incentives : experimental evidence from repayments of an Islamic credit card," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7420, The World Bank.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods

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