What determines the extent to which a social norm influences individual behavior? And how do norms evolve over time? These are the general questions motivating this project.
First, we introduce the notion of a partial norm, namely a norm on which there is only partial consensus on what the norm prescribes. We start from two assumptions. a) individuals are intrinsically motivated to respect a social norm, even if it is partial; in other words, deviant behavior entails psychological costs, even if it is not punished by others. b) The intrinsic motivation to follow the norm is stronger if there is more social consensus on the prescriptions of the norm.
Next, we test some implications of this formulation in an experiment. We consider a norm prescribing generosity, and we explore the extent to which: i) the norm influences behavior; ii) deviant behavior from the norm causes aggrievement. Our goal is to test the prediction that partial norms on which there is more consensus exert more influence on behavior (generosity and aggrievement). We study a dictator game: a clean setting, where intrinsic motivations to generosity are not contaminated by strategic concerns about others’ strategies. In the experiment, we elicit first and second order beliefs about the norm (i.e. what the norm prescribes and what is the perceived social consensus on the norm). Then we create treatments where the degree of perceived social consensus varies, and we investigate how this affects generosity and aggrievement.
In the experiment, we are also able to test specific predictions on how self-serving bias influences behavior, and to test recent theories on psychological games about the determinants of aggrievement. Specifically, we can test whether aggrievement is caused by deviant behavior relative to what the norm prescribes (as in Passarelli and Tabellini 2015), or relative to positive expectations about how others will play (as in Battigalli et al. 2015). Understanding the mechanism behind what determines aggrievement is important, because anger and frustration are relevant determinants of behavior in many economic and political situations, and yet not much is known about what triggers this emotion in standard economic settings.
Having established the empirical relevance of partial norms, we then study how they evolve over time. Perceived social consensus can amplify or dampen the impact of social norms. This in turn affects the incentives of parents to instill values and behavioral norms on their kids, giving rise to interesting dynamics in the evolution of social norms, and to possible interactions with other socialization mechanisms (education or peer effects).
IGIER - Università Bocconi