Rank, Social Group Identity, and Punishment in a Public Goods Game: Preliminary Results

23 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2013

Date Written: October 15, 2011


This paper investigates whether an individual’s identity as a member of a social group and relative position in that group affects willingness to punish free-riders in a public goods game. Previous studies have demonstrated that allowing subjects to punish free-riders increases cooperation in the public goods game, and that the degree of punishment is sensitive to its cost and effectiveness. In addition, research has shown that subjects’ motivation for punishing non-cooperators arises not from its ability to deter non-cooperative behavior, but rather from the emotional satisfaction that comes from punishing the offenders. When all players in the game are part of a tightly-knit social group, a subject’s identification with the group may diminish the rate of free-riding, but it may also diminish the other players’ willingness to punish non-cooperating group members. This paper investigates whether rank and social group membership at the U.S. Air Force Academy contributes to cadets’ reluctance or willingness to punish non-cooperators in a public goods experiment. We employ a standard public goods game with punishment, but in addition to knowing how much each player contributed to the group good, subjects also know the rank and military unit of the other players in the group. We investigate whether these variables affect subjects’ willingness to punish non-cooperators, and the direction in which these variables act. Using a follow-up survey, we investigate players’ motivations for both contributing and punishing in the game. The results have implications regarding aspects of Academy life related to enforcement of the honor code, and also to other workplace situations in which employees may be reluctant to report the improper actions of their coworkers.

Keywords: Public goods, punishment, economics of identity

JEL Classification: C91, C92, H41

Suggested Citation

Carson, Katherine Silz, Rank, Social Group Identity, and Punishment in a Public Goods Game: Preliminary Results (October 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2324392 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2324392

Katherine Silz Carson (Contact Author)

US Air Force Academy ( email )

2354 Fairchild Drive, Suite 6K110
USAF Academy, CO 80840-6299
United States

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