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Normative foundations of human cooperation


Fehr, Ernst; Schurtenberger, Ivo (2018). Normative foundations of human cooperation. Nature Human Behaviour, 2(7):458-468.

Abstract

A large literature shares the view that social norms shape human cooperation, but without a clean empirical identification of the relevant norms almost every behaviour can be rationalized as norm driven, thus rendering norms useless as an explanatory construct. This raises the question of whether social norms are indeed causal drivers of behaviour and can convincingly explain major cooperation-related regularities. Here, we show that the norm of conditional cooperation provides such an explanation, that powerful methods for its empirical identification exist and that social norms have causal effects. Norm compliance rests on fundamental human motives (‘social preferences’) that also imply a willingness to punish free-riders, but normative constraints on peer punishment are important for its effectiveness and welfare properties. If given the chance, a large majority of people favour the imposition of such constraints through the migration to institutional environments that enable the normative guidance of cooperation and norm enforcement behaviours.

Abstract

A large literature shares the view that social norms shape human cooperation, but without a clean empirical identification of the relevant norms almost every behaviour can be rationalized as norm driven, thus rendering norms useless as an explanatory construct. This raises the question of whether social norms are indeed causal drivers of behaviour and can convincingly explain major cooperation-related regularities. Here, we show that the norm of conditional cooperation provides such an explanation, that powerful methods for its empirical identification exist and that social norms have causal effects. Norm compliance rests on fundamental human motives (‘social preferences’) that also imply a willingness to punish free-riders, but normative constraints on peer punishment are important for its effectiveness and welfare properties. If given the chance, a large majority of people favour the imposition of such constraints through the migration to institutional environments that enable the normative guidance of cooperation and norm enforcement behaviours.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Language:English
Date:July 2018
Deposited On:22 Jan 2019 12:35
Last Modified:22 Jan 2019 12:35
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2397-3374
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-018-0385-5
Official URL:https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0385-5

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