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The Hidden Effect of Rules: Behavioural consequences of Obligations

  • Roberto Galbiati
  • Pietro Vertova

How formal institutions (e.g. laws and public policies) affect human behaviour represents a crucial issue in economic analysis. Formal rules are defined as obligations backed by incentives. The economic literature has largely studied the role of material incentives in shaping individual behaviour. Yet, the role of obligations, i.e. what formal rules ask people to do or not to do, remains a black box. In this paper we run a public good game to analyze the behavioural effects of obligations. We find experimental evidence that obligations can affect cooperative behaviour both by coordinating conditional co-operators’ beliefs on others’ behaviour and by directly affecting social preferences. Our results shed a new light on the behavioural channels through which formal rules can affect individual behaviour and suggest the opportunity to broaden the scope of analysis in order to better understand the effects of institutions on economic outcomes.

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Paper provided by D.E.S. (Department of Economic Studies), University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy in its series Discussion Papers with number 18_2006.

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Date of creation: 01 Sep 2006
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Handle: RePEc:prt:dpaper:18_2006
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  1. Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2005. "Law and Behaviours in Social Dilemmas: Testing the Effect of Obligations on Cooperation," Labsi Experimental Economics Laboratory University of Siena 001, University of Siena.
  2. Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gaechter & Ernst Fehr, . "Are People Conditionally Cooperative? Evidence from a Public Goods Experiment," IEW - Working Papers 016, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  3. Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi, 2006. "Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?," CEPR Discussion Papers 5505, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Falk, Armin & Fehr, Ernst & Zehnder, Christian, 2005. "The Behavioural Effects of Minimum Wages," CEPR Discussion Papers 5115, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Galbiati, R. & Vertova, P., 2005. "Law and Behaviours in Social Dilemmas : Testing the Effect of Obligations on Cooperation," Discussion Paper 2005-56, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  6. Falk, Armin & Kosfeld, Michael, 2004. "Distrust – The Hidden Cost of Control," IZA Discussion Papers 1203, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2005. "Incentives and Prosocial Behavior," NBER Working Papers 11535, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. repec:dgr:kubcen:200556 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Uri Gneezy & Aldo Rustichini, 2000. "Pay Enough Or Don'T Pay At All," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 791-810, August.
  10. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
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