Habits of Virtue: Creating Norms of Cooperation and Defection in the Laboratory

Forthcoming in Management Science

70 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2013 Last revised: 22 Jan 2016

See all articles by Alexander Peysakhovich

Alexander Peysakhovich

Yale University - Human Cooperation Lab

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: January 22, 2015


What explains variability in norms of cooperation across organizations and cultures? One answer comes from the internalization of norms prescribing behavior that is typically successful under the institutions that govern one’s daily life. These norms are then carried over into atypical situations beyond the reach of institutions. Here we experimentally demonstrate such spillovers. First, we immerse subjects in environments that do or do not support cooperation using repeated Prisoner’s Dilemmas. Afterwards, we measure their intrinsic prosociality in one-shot games. Subjects from environments that support cooperation are more prosocial, more likely to punish selfishness, and more generally trusting. Furthermore, these effects are most pronounced among subjects who use heuristics, suggesting that intuitive processes play a key role in the spillovers we observe. Our findings help to explain variation in one-shot anonymous cooperation, linking this intrinsically motivated prosociality to the externally imposed institutional rules experienced in other settings.

Keywords: Prosociality, culture, norms, cooperation, altruism, punishment, trust

JEL Classification: D03, Z10

Suggested Citation

Peysakhovich, Alexander and Rand, David G., Habits of Virtue: Creating Norms of Cooperation and Defection in the Laboratory (January 22, 2015). Forthcoming in Management Science, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2294242 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2294242

Alexander Peysakhovich

Yale University - Human Cooperation Lab ( email )

New Haven, CT
United States

David G. Rand (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.daverand.org

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