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Rules, Rule-Following, and Cooperation

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Abstract

Rules are thought to persist to the extent that the direct benefits of having them (e.g. reduced transactions costs) exceed the costs of enforcement and of occasional misapplications. We argue that a second crucial role of rules is as screening mechanisms for identifying cooperative types. Thus we underestimate the social value of rules when we consider only their instrumental value in solving a particular problem. We demonstrate experimentally that costly rule-following can be used to screen for conditional cooperators. Subjects participate in a rule-following task in which they may incur costs to follow an arbitrary written rule in an individual choice setting. Without their knowledge, we sort them into groups according to their willingness to follow the rule. These groups then play repeated public goods or trust games. Rule-following groups sustain high public goods contributions over time, but in rule-breaking groups cooperation decays. Rulefollowers also reciprocate more in trust games. However, when individuals are not sorted by type, we observe no differences in the behavior of rule-followers and rule-breakers.

Suggested Citation

  • Erik O. Kimbrough & Alexander Vostroknutov, 2012. "Rules, Rule-Following, and Cooperation," Discussion Papers dp12-15, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
  • Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp12-15
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    1. Rules, Rule-Following, and Cooperation
      by Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo on 2012-07-24 19:36:30

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    Cited by:

    1. Kimbrough Erik O. & Vostroknutov Alexander, 2012. "Using Rules to Screen for Cooperative Types: Rule-Following and Restraint in Common Pool Resource Systems," Research Memorandum 055, Maastricht University, Maastricht Research School of Economics of Technology and Organization (METEOR).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    experimental economics; rules; social dilemmas; cooperation;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

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