Deviant or Wrong? The Effects of Norm Information on the Efficacy of Punishment
42 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2019
Date Written: November 23, 2018
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: Suggested Citation