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

54 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2018 Last revised: 3 Feb 2021

See all articles by Cristina Bicchieri

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania

Eugen Dimant

University of Pennsylvania; CESifo

Erte Xiao

Monash University

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: February 2, 2021

Abstract

Research examining the effect of weak 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, which would enable agents to justify selfish behavior. We address the question of legitimacy by shedding light upon the importance of social norms and their interplay with weak punishment in the context of a trust game. Across six conditions, we systematically vary the combination of the existence of weak punishment and norm information. Norm information may refer either to what most others do (empirical) or to what most others deem appropriate (normative). We show that in isolation, neither weak punishment nor empirical/normative information increase prosocial, reciprocal behavior. We instead find that reciprocity significantly increases when normative information and weak punishment are combined, but only when compliance is relatively cheap. When compliance is more costly, we find that the combination of punishment and generic empirical information about others’ conformity can have detrimental effects. In additional experiments, we show that this negative effect can be attributed to the punishment being perceived as unjustified, at least in some individuals. Our results have important implications for researchers and practitioners alike.

Keywords: Conformity, Punishment, Social Norms, Trust

JEL Classification: C91, D03, D73, H26

Suggested Citation

Bicchieri, Cristina and Dimant, Eugen and Xiao, Erte, Deviant or Wrong? The Effects of Norm Information on the Efficacy of Punishment (February 2, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3294371 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3294371

Cristina Bicchieri

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

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

Eugen Dimant (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://sites.google.com/view/eugendimant/

CESifo ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich
Germany

Erte Xiao

Monash University ( email )

23 Innovation Walk
Wellington Road
Clayton, Victoria 3800
Australia

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