Selfishness as a Potential Cause of Crime - A Prison Experiment

33 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2013

See all articles by Thorsten Chmura

Thorsten Chmura

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

Christoph Engel

Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences - Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods; University of Bonn - Faculty of Law & Economics; Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students; Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

Markus Englerth

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

Date Written: March 1, 2013

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.

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

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

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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2239027 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2239027

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 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
+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

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Students ( email )

Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
PO Box 1738
Rotterdam
Netherlands

Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Law

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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