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Conformity, reciprocity and the sense of justice. How social contract-based preferences and beliefs explain norm compliance: the experimental evidence

  • Lorenzo Sacconi

    ()

  • Marco Faillo

    ()

Compliance with a social norm is a matter of self-enforceability and endogenous motivation to conform, which is relevant not just to social norm,s but also to a wide array of institutions. Here we consider endogenous mechanisms that become effective once the game description has been enriched with pre-play communication allowing impartial agreements on a norm (even if they remain not binding in any sense). Behavioral models understand conformity as the maximization of some “enlarged” utility function properly defined to make room for the individual’s “desire” to comply with a norm reciprocally adhered to by other participants – whose conformity in turn depends on the expectation that the norm will be in fact reciprocally adhered to. In particular this paper presents an experimental study on the “conformity-with-the-ideal preference theory” (Grimalda and Sacconi 2005), based of a simple experimental three person game called the “exclusion game”. If the players participate in a “constitutional stage” (under a veil of ignorance) in which they decide the rule of division unanimously, the experimental data show a dramatic change in the participants’ behavior pattern. Most of them conform to the fair rule of division to which they have agreed in a pre-play communication stage, whereas in the absence of this agreement they behave egoistically. The paper also argues that this behavior is largely consistent with what John Rawls (1971) called the “sense of justice”, a theory of norm compliance unfortunately overlooked by economists and which should be reconsidered after the behaviorist turn in economics.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia in its series Department of Economics Working Papers with number 0814.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:trn:utwpde:0814
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  1. Gary Charness & Martin Dufwenberg, 2006. "Promises and Partnership," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 74(6), pages 1579-1601, November.
  2. Lorenzo Sacconi & Stefano Moretti, 2004. "A Fuzzy Logic and Default Reasoning Model of Social Norm and Equilibrium Selection in Games under Unforeseen Contingencies," Department of Economics Working Papers 0412, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  3. Gianluca Grimalda & Lorenzo Sacconi, 2002. "The Constitution of the Nonprofit Enterprise: Ideals, Conformism and Reciprocity," LIUC Papers in Ethics, Law and Economics 115, Cattaneo University (LIUC).
  4. Ken Binmore, 1998. "Game Theory and the Social Contract - Vol. 2: Just Playing," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 2, number 0262024446, June.
  5. Robin Cubitt & Chris Starmer & Robert Sugden, 1998. "On the Validity of the Random Lottery Incentive System," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 1(2), pages 115-131, September.
  6. Joseph Farrell & Matthew Rabin, 1996. "Cheap Talk," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(3), pages 103-118, Summer.
  7. Gianluca Grimalda & Lorenzo Sacconi, 2005. "The Constitution of the Not-For-Profit Organisation: Reciprocal Conformity to Morality," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 249-276, 09.
  8. Matthew Rabin., 1992. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," Economics Working Papers 92-199, University of California at Berkeley.
  9. Geanakoplos, John & Pearce, David & Stacchetti, Ennio, 1989. "Psychological games and sequential rationality," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 60-79, March.
  10. Falk, Armin & Fischbacher, Urs, 2006. "A theory of reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 293-315, February.
  11. Lorenzo Sacconi & Marco Faillo, 2005. "Conformity and reciprocity in the "exclusion game": an experimental investigation," Department of Economics Working Papers 0512, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  12. David K. Levine, 1998. "Modeling Altruism and Spitefulness in Experiment," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(3), pages 593-622, July.
  13. Starmer, Chris & Sugden, Robert, 1991. "Does the Random-Lottery Incentive System Elicit True Preferences? An Experimental Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(4), pages 971-78, September.
  14. Marco Faillo & Lorenzo Sacconi, 2007. "Norm compliance: the contribution of behavioral economics models," Department of Economics Working Papers 0704, Department of Economics, University of Trento, Italia.
  15. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2004. "Promises, Threats and Fairness," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 397-420, 04.
  16. Christoph Vanberg, 2008. "Why Do People Keep Their Promises? An Experimental Test of Two Explanations -super-1," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(6), pages 1467-1480, November.
  17. Pierpaolo Battigalli & Martin Dufwenberg, 2007. "Guilt in Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 170-176, May.
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