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The promise and the peril of using social influence to reverse harmful traditions


Efferson, Charles; Vogt, Sonja; Fehr, Ernst (2020). The promise and the peril of using social influence to reverse harmful traditions. Nature Human Behaviour, 4(1):55-68.

Abstract

For a policy-maker promoting the end of a harmful tradition, conformist social influence is a compelling mechanism. If an intervention convinces enough people to abandon the tradition, this can spill over and induce others to follow. A key objective is thus to activate such spillovers and amplify an intervention’s effects. With female genital cutting as a motivating example, we develop empirically informed analytical and simulation models to examine this idea. Even if conformity pervades decision-making, spillovers can range from irrelevant to indispensable. Our analysis highlights three considerations. First, ordinary forms of individual heterogeneity can severely limit spillovers, and understanding the heterogeneity in a population is essential. Second, although interventions often target samples of the population biased towards ending the harmful tradition, targeting a representative sample is a more robust way to achieve spillovers. Finally, if the harmful tradition contributes to group identity, the success of spillovers can depend critically on disrupting the link between identity and tradition.

Abstract

For a policy-maker promoting the end of a harmful tradition, conformist social influence is a compelling mechanism. If an intervention convinces enough people to abandon the tradition, this can spill over and induce others to follow. A key objective is thus to activate such spillovers and amplify an intervention’s effects. With female genital cutting as a motivating example, we develop empirically informed analytical and simulation models to examine this idea. Even if conformity pervades decision-making, spillovers can range from irrelevant to indispensable. Our analysis highlights three considerations. First, ordinary forms of individual heterogeneity can severely limit spillovers, and understanding the heterogeneity in a population is essential. Second, although interventions often target samples of the population biased towards ending the harmful tradition, targeting a representative sample is a more robust way to achieve spillovers. Finally, if the harmful tradition contributes to group identity, the success of spillovers can depend critically on disrupting the link between identity and tradition.

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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
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Social Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Life Sciences > Behavioral Neuroscience
Uncontrolled Keywords:Anthropology, economics, psychology, social policy, sociology
Language:English
Date:1 January 2020
Deposited On:14 Jan 2020 12:31
Last Modified:29 Jul 2020 13:08
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2397-3374
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0768-2

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