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http://ssrn.com/abstract=2239027
 
 

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Selfishness as a Potential Cause of Crime - A Prison Experiment


Thorsten Chmura


University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Nottingham University Business School

Christoph Engel


Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods; University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Markus Englerth


Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

March 1, 2013

MPI Collective Goods Preprint, No. 2013/5

Abstract:     
For a rational choice theorist, the absence of crime is more difficult to explain than its presence. Arguably, the expected value of criminal sanctions, i.e. the product of severity times certainty, is often below the expected benefit. We rely on a standard theory from behavioral economics, inequity aversion, to offer an explanation. This theory could also explain how imperfect criminal sanctions deter crime. The critical component of the theory is aversion against outperforming others. To test this theory, we exploit that it posits inequity aversion to be a personality trait. We can therefore test it in a very simple standard game. Inequity averse individuals give a fraction of their endowment to another anonymous, unendowed participant. We have prisoners play this game, and compare results to findings from a meta-study of more than 100 dictator games with non-prisoners. Surprisingly, results do not differ, not even if we only compare with other dictator games among close-knit groups. To exclude social proximity as an explanation, we retest prisoners on a second dictator game where the recipient is a charity. Prisoners give more, not less.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: Inequity Aversion, Crime, Dictator Game, Selfishness, Imperfect Sanctions, Social Proximity, Charity

JEL Classification: C93, D63, C91, A12, D03, K14

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Date posted: March 26, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Chmura, Thorsten and Engel, Christoph and Englerth, Markus, Selfishness as a Potential Cause of Crime - A Prison Experiment (March 1, 2013). MPI Collective Goods Preprint, No. 2013/5. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2239027 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2239027

Contact Information

Thorsten Chmura
University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics ( email )
Postfach 2220
D-53012 Bonn
Germany
Nottingham University Business School
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB
United Kingdom
Christoph Engel (Contact Author)
Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )
Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany
+049 228 914160 (Phone)
+049 228 9141655 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.coll.mpg.de/engel.html

University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics
Postfach 2220
D-53012 Bonn
Germany
University of Osnabrueck - Faculty of Law
c/o Prof. Dr. Schneider
Osnabruck, D-49069
Germany
Markus Englerth
Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )
Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany
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