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Social norms or low-cost heuristics? An experimental investigation of imitative behavior

  • Simona Cicognani


  • Luigi Mittone


This paper extends choice theory by allowing for the interaction between cognitive costs and social norms. We experimentally investigate the role of imitation when participants face a task which is costly in cognitive terms. We identify two main reasons for imitative behavior. First, individuals belonging to a community might want to conform to others to obey to social norms. Second, individuals might be boundedly rational and consider imitation as a decisional device when comparing alternatives is cognitively demanding. In order to disentangle the two effects, we devise a laboratory experiment with a novel experimental task in which we model the choice of different alternatives through high or low cognitive costs and feedback information provided to subjects. Our results provide evidence for imitative behavior only through the channel of beliefs regarding others’ performance. We also find a temporal pattern in the distribution of choices, both in the high-cost and low-cost cognitive conditions, that may represent another cognitive shortcut.

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Paper provided by Cognitive and Experimental Economics Laboratory, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia in its series CEEL Working Papers with number 1402.

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Date of creation: 2014
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:trn:utwpce:1402
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  1. Julie Beugnot & Bernard Fortin & Guy Lacroix & Marie Claire Villeval, 2013. "Social network and peer effects at work," Post-Print halshs-00830284, HAL.
  2. Krauth, Brian V., 2006. "Simulation-based estimation of peer effects," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 133(1), pages 243-271, July.
  3. Fortin, Bernard & Lacroix, Guy & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2004. "Tax Evasion and Social Interactions," IZA Discussion Papers 1359, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Apestgeguia, Jose & Huck, Steffen & Oechssler, Jörg, 2005. "Imitation - Theory and Experimental Evidence," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 54, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
  5. Gill, David & Prowse, Victoria, 2011. "A novel computerized real effort task based on sliders," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 1101, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
  6. Offerman, Theo & Sonnemans, Joep, 1998. "Learning by experience and learning by imitating successful others," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 559-575, March.
  7. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
  8. Hayakawa, Hiroaki, 2000. "Bounded rationality, social and cultural norms, and interdependence via reference groups," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 1-34, September.
  9. Piero Cipollone & Alfonso Rosolia, 2007. "Social Interactions in High School: Lessons from an Earthquake," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 948-965, June.
  10. Giacomo De Giorgi & Michele Pellizzari & Silvia Redaelli, 2010. "Identification of Social Interactions through Partially Overlapping Peer Groups," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 241-75, April.
  11. Pokorny, Kathrin, 2008. "Pay--but do not pay too much: An experimental study on the impact of incentives," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 251-264, May.
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