Relational Utility and Social Norms in Games

18 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2022 Last revised: 3 Aug 2023

See all articles by Ruiyang Su

Ruiyang Su

Queen's University

Bryce Morsky

Florida State University

Date Written: December 13, 2022


In human societies, overcoming incentives to act selfishly is immensely important so as to promote prosocial behaviours. Social norms and relational utility, utility generated by such feelings as guilt, are mechanisms by which cooperation and coordination can be facilitated. Here we add relational utility, derived from social norms, to the standard utility functions for several classic games and find that the qualitative outcome of these games can be altered. In particular, social dilemmas can be turned into coordination games that exhibit bistability, polymorphic states with non-zero degrees of cooperation can exist at equilibrium, and social norms with an moderate degree of force, can be optimal in promoting cooperation.

Keywords: Cooperation, Guilt, Psychological game theory, Relational utility, Social norms

JEL Classification: C72, C73, D01, D11, D91, Z13

Suggested Citation

Su, Ruiyang and Morsky, Bryce, Relational Utility and Social Norms in Games (December 13, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Ruiyang Su (Contact Author)

Queen's University ( email )

48 University Ave, Jeffrey Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6

HOME PAGE: http://

Bryce Morsky

Florida State University ( email )

Tallahasse, FL 32306
United States

HOME PAGE: http://

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