The Sucker Norm
University of Pennsylvania Law School
July 17, 2008
U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 09-05
In this paper, I review the theoretical and empirical scholarship bearing on the notion of being a sucker. I suggest that there is a social norm against being a sucker, and that a number of experimental results could be reconsidered in light of this "sucker norm." First, I establish, at least for the purposes of this analysis, the basic parameters of what it means to be a sucker. Second, I consider when the fear of being a sucker is helpful or normative, and when it seems to be misapplied to cases in which it might actually lead to sub-optimal outcomes. I suggest that the fear of being a sucker is especially potent because it defies a social norm. Third, I review research on situations in which people might try (and succeed) to avoid invoking the sucker norm so that they can accept a disadvantageously inequitable allocation when there is no chance for a higher payoff. I discuss how certain forms of retaliation and punishment might be explained as ways to alleviate the uncomfortable feeling of being a sucker. Finally, I offer some preliminary data on the effect of the sucker norm on behavior in an experimental game, and consider the possible implications of these results and directions for future research.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 38
Keywords: social norms, sucker, behavioral economicsworking papers series
Date posted: September 19, 2008 ; Last revised: January 27, 2009
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