Using a large-scale dictator game experiment (N = 850) the authors show that "peers" can have a profound influence on individuals' perceptions of norms of fair sharing, but find limited evidence of the influence of norms and peers on actual sharing behaviour.
The authors study the role of norm compliance in driving one of the fundamental principles of human social behaviour: fair sharing. While nearly all previous studies of norm compliance have focused on tightly controlled but surprisingly asocial decision environments, where individuals face abstract decision situations, under full anonymity, and in complete isolation from other decision-makers, in this paper the authors study how norms of sharing and actual sharing behaviour are influenced by the presence of "peers", ie other decision-makers who face a similar decision task as the individual. The study is based on a large-scale dictator game experiment (N = 850) where a dictator is matched with a recipient and either receives information about the behaviour of another dictator (Peer treatment) or not (NoPeer treatment). For each treatment, the authors conduct two types of experiments, a norm-elicitation experiment (to study how peers affect the social appropriateness of sharing) and a behavioural experiment (to study how peers affect actual sharing behaviour).
The norm-elicitation experiment reveals that peers have a systematic and strong influence on the perceptions of social appropriateness. In the Peer treatment, ungenerous monetary transfers to the recipient are viewed as relatively more appropriate when the peer is also ungenerous towards the recipient. However, when the same levels of recipient's wealth have been determined by chance (NoPeer treatment), the relation between recipient's wealth and appropriateness is reversed: ungenerous transfers are viewed as relatively more appropriate when the recipient is wealthier. These strong effects of peers on norms do not translate, however, into corresponding effects in actual behaviour. In particular, the authors do not observe a positive correlation between the dictator's and peer's generosity in the treatment where dictators receive information about peer behaviour. Thus, generous peers do not breed more generosity, despite the strong impact of peers on the social acceptability of generous and ungenerous behaviour.
Simon Gächter, Leonie Gerhards, Daniele Nosenzo, The importance of peers for compliance with norms of fair sharing, European Economic Review, Volume 97, 2017, Pages 72-86, ISSN 0014-2921, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.euroecorev.2017.06.001.
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Posted on Tuesday 12th September 2017