Deviant or Wrong? The Effects of Norm Information on the Efficacy of Punishment

42 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2018

See all articles by Eugen Dimant

Eugen Dimant

University of Pennsylvania, Behavioral Ethics Lab

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania

Erte Xiao

Monash University

Date Written: December 1, 2018

Abstract

A stream of research examining the effect of punishment on conformity indicates that punishment can backfire and lead to suboptimal social outcomes. We examine whether this effect is due to a lack of perceived legitimacy of rule enforcement, enabling agents to justify selfish behavior. We address the question of punishment legitimacy by shedding light upon the importance of social norms and their interplay with punishment. Often people are presented with incomplete norm information: either about what most others do (empirical) or what most others deem appropriate (normative). We show that neither punishment nor empirical/normative information in isolation result in prosocial behavior. In turn, we find that prosociality is significantly increased when normative information and punishment are combined, but only when compliance is relatively cheap. When compliance is more expensive, we find that the combination of punishment and empirical information about others’ conformity can have detrimental effects on prosocial behavior. We attribute this outcome to the differential ability to distort one’s own beliefs about applicable norms. Our results have important implications for researchers and practitioners alike.

Keywords: Conformity, Experiments, Punishment, Social Norms, Trust Game

JEL Classification: C91, D03, D73, H26

Suggested Citation

Dimant, Eugen and Bicchieri, Cristina and Xiao, Erte, Deviant or Wrong? The Effects of Norm Information on the Efficacy of Punishment (December 1, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3294371 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3294371

Eugen Dimant (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania, Behavioral Ethics Lab ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/eugendimant/

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-5820 (Phone)

Erte Xiao

Monash University ( email )

23 Innovation Walk
Wellington Road
Clayton, Victoria 3800
Australia

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