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Lifting the veil of ignorance: An experiment on the contagiousness of norm violations


Diekmann, Andreas; Przepiorka, Wojtek; Rauhut, Heiko (2015). Lifting the veil of ignorance: An experiment on the contagiousness of norm violations. Rationality and Society, 27(3):309-333.

Abstract

Norm violations can be contagious. Previous research analyzed two mechanisms of why knowledge about others’ norm violations triggers its spread: (1) Actors lower their subjective beliefs about the probability or severity of punishment, or (2) they condition their compliance on others’ compliance. While earlier field studies could hardly disentangle both effects, we use a laboratory experiment which eliminates any punishment threat. Subjects (n = 466) can throw a die and are paid according to their reported number. Our design rules out any possibility of personal identification so that subjects can lie about their thrown number and claim inflated payoffs without risking detection. The aggregate distribution of reported payoffs allows the estimation of the extent to which the honesty norm is violated. We compare two treatment conditions in which subjects are informed about lying behavior of others with a control condition without information feedback. Observations from a subsequent die throw reveal that knowledge about liars triggers the spread of lying compared to the control condition. Our results demonstrate the contagiousness of norm violations, where actors imitate norm violations of others under the exclusion of strategic motives.

Abstract

Norm violations can be contagious. Previous research analyzed two mechanisms of why knowledge about others’ norm violations triggers its spread: (1) Actors lower their subjective beliefs about the probability or severity of punishment, or (2) they condition their compliance on others’ compliance. While earlier field studies could hardly disentangle both effects, we use a laboratory experiment which eliminates any punishment threat. Subjects (n = 466) can throw a die and are paid according to their reported number. Our design rules out any possibility of personal identification so that subjects can lie about their thrown number and claim inflated payoffs without risking detection. The aggregate distribution of reported payoffs allows the estimation of the extent to which the honesty norm is violated. We compare two treatment conditions in which subjects are informed about lying behavior of others with a control condition without information feedback. Observations from a subsequent die throw reveal that knowledge about liars triggers the spread of lying compared to the control condition. Our results demonstrate the contagiousness of norm violations, where actors imitate norm violations of others under the exclusion of strategic motives.

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3 citations in Web of Science®
5 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Sociology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:2015
Deposited On:29 Apr 2014 13:30
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 17:51
Publisher:SAGE Publications
ISSN:1043-4631
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/1043463115593109

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