Predicting Social Tipping and Norm Change in Controlled Experiments

18 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2020 Last revised: 14 Feb 2021

See all articles by James Andreoni

James Andreoni

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Nikos Nikiforakis

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi

Simon Siegenthaler

University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management

Date Written: June 2020

Abstract

The ability to predict when societies will replace one social norm for another can have significant implications for welfare, especially when norms are detrimental. A popular theory poses that the pressure to conform to social norms creates tipping thresholds which, once passed, propel societies toward an alternative state. Predicting when societies will reach a tipping threshold, however, has been a major challenge due to the lack of experimental data for evaluating competing models. We present evidence from a large-scale lab experiment designed to test the theoretical predictions of a threshold model for social tipping. In our setting, societal preferences change gradually, forcing individuals to weigh the benefit from deviating from the norm against the cost from not conforming to the behavior of others. We show that the model predicts accurately social tipping and norm change in 96% of experimental societies. Strikingly, when individuals determine the cost for non-conformity themselves, they set it too high, causing the persistence of detrimental norms. We also show that instigators of change tend to be more risk tolerant and to dislike conformity more. Our findings demonstrate the value of threshold models for understanding social tipping in a broad range of social settings and designing policies to promote welfare.

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Suggested Citation

Andreoni, James and Nikiforakis, Nikos and Siegenthaler, Simon, Predicting Social Tipping and Norm Change in Controlled Experiments (June 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27310, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3621814

James Andreoni (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0508
United States

HOME PAGE: http://econ.ucsd.edu/~jandreon/

Nikos Nikiforakis

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi ( email )

PO Box 129188
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/nnikiforakis/home

Simon Siegenthaler

University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management ( email )

P.O. Box 830688
Richardson, TX 75083-0688
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.simonsiegenthaler.com

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