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The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation and Norm Enforcement: Evidence using Random Assignment to Real Social Groups

24 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2006  

Lorenz Goette

University of Lausanne; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

David Huffman

IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Swarthmore College

Stephan Meier

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Columbia Business School - Management

Date Written: March 2006

Abstract

Due to incomplete contracts, efficiency of an organization depends on willingness of individuals to take non-selfish actions, e.g., cooperate when there is no incentive to do so, or punish inefficient actions by others. Organizations also constitute a social boundary, or group. We investigate whether this social aspect of organizations has an important benefit, fostering unselfish cooperation and norm enforcement within the group, but whether there is also a dark side, in the form of hostility between groups. Our experiment provides the first evidence without the confounding effect of self-selection into groups. Individuals are randomly assigned to different platoons during a four-week portion of officer training in the Swiss Army. We conduct choice experiments - simultaneous prisoner's dilemma games, with and without third-party punishment - in week three. Random assignment significantly increases willingness to cooperate with fellow platoon members. Assignment does not lead to hostility, in the sense of vindictive punishment of outsiders, but does affect norm enforcement, enhancing willingness to enforce a norm of cooperation towards fellow platoon members. This suggests that the social aspect of organizations motivates efficient behavior even when ordinary incentives fail, and helps explain practices designed to foster social ties or group identification within an organization.

Keywords: organizations, in-group favoritism, social identity, punishment

JEL Classification: D01, D23, J00

Suggested Citation

Goette, Lorenz and Huffman, David and Meier, Stephan, The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation and Norm Enforcement: Evidence using Random Assignment to Real Social Groups (March 2006). IZA Discussion Paper No. 2020; FRB of Boston Working Paper No. 06-7. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=892343

Lorenz F. Goette

University of Lausanne ( email )

Department of Economics
Batiment Internef
Lausanne, 1015
Switzerland
(021) 692'3496 (Phone)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.iza.org

David Huffman (Contact Author)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Swarthmore College

500 College Ave
Swarthmore, PA 19081
United States

Stephan Meier

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston ( email )

600 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Columbia Business School - Management ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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