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Rules, Rule-Following, and Cooperation

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.

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File URL: http://www.sfu.ca/econ-research/RePEc/sfu/sfudps/dp12-15.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University in its series Discussion Papers with number dp12-15.

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Length: 45
Date of creation: Jul 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp12-15
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada
Phone: (778)782-3508
Fax: (778)782-5944
Web page: http://www.sfu.ca/economics.html

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Order Information: Postal: Working Paper Coordinator, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6, Canada
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  17. McCabe, Kevin & Houser, Daniel & Ryan, Lee & Smith, Vernon & Trouard, Ted, 2001. "A Functional Imaging Study of Cooperation in Two-Person reciprocal Exchange," MPRA Paper 5172, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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