Non-Selfish Behavior: Are Social Preferences or Social Norms Revealed in Distribution Decisions?
78 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2020 Last revised: 3 Mar 2021
Date Written: July 21, 2020
People frequently choose to reduce own payoffs to help others. This non-selfish behavior is typically assumed to arise because people are motivated by social preferences. An alternative explanation is that they follow social norms. We test which of these two accounts can better explain subjects' decisions in a simple distribution game. Unlike previous studies, we elicit preferences and perceived norms directly for each subject. We find that norm-following explains people's distributive choices better than social preferences, and lack of confidence in one's social preference predicts norm-following. Our finding have implications for the strength of the Pareto criterion in welfare evaluations.
Keywords: Social Preferences, Norms, Distribution Decisions, Inequality, Unselfishness, Social Identity, Ambiguity, Principles of Justice, Pareto Criterion, Maximin
JEL Classification: A13, C90, D63, D64, D91, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation