Understanding Conformity: An Experimental Investigation

64 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2015  

B. Douglas Bernheim

Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Christine Exley

Harvard Business School

Date Written: December 10, 2015

Abstract

Some theories of conformity hold that social equilibrium either standardizes inferences or promotes a shared understanding of conventions and norms among individuals with fixed heterogeneous preferences (belief mechanisms). Others depict tastes as fluid and hence subject to social influences (preference mechanisms). Belief mechanisms dominate discussions of conformity within economics, but preference mechanisms receive significant attention in other social sciences. This paper seeks to determine whether conformity is attributable to belief mechanisms or preference mechanisms by exploiting their distinctive implications for the process of convergence. Laboratory experiments suggest that economists have focused too narrowly on explanations for conformity involving belief mechanisms.

Keywords: conformity, norms, image motivation, prosocial behavior

Suggested Citation

Bernheim, B. Douglas and Exley, Christine, Understanding Conformity: An Experimental Investigation (December 10, 2015). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 16-070. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2703932 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2703932

B. Douglas Bernheim

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6072
United States
650-725-8732 (Phone)
650-725-5702 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Christine Exley (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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