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Teaching by example and induced beliefs in a model of cultural transmission

Teaching by example

Fabrizio Adriani, Jesse A. Matheson and Silvia Sonderegger

The cultural transmission literature has roots in the pioneering work of socio-biologists, but recently a literature on this topic has also emerged in economics. These works have augmented the early socio-biology models with key elements of economic theory like strategic behavior and optimization. The core features of most existing models, however, are still to a large extent borrowed from models of genetic transmission, and cultural transmission is seen as a sort of "black box". This paper aims at filling this gap. Economists have long worked with models of information transmission and (Bayesian) social learning that have proved useful in understanding important socio-cultural phenomena.

In this Nottingham School of Economics working paper, published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, Fabrizio Adriani, Jesse A. Matheson and Silvia Sonderegger build a simple model of information transmission where agents are heterogeneous in their tastes and can adopt one of two alternative behavioral traits (e.g. self-gratification or abstinence). They find that explicitly accounting for the role of social learning generates novel effects. The key observation is that the adults' behavior conveys information to children, thus generating an information externality. Information transmission may thus leave a signature in the form of a "signaling distortion" in parental behavior. For instance, a parent concerned that her child may take up smoking may refrain from smoking herself, acknowledging that this may be setting a "bad example" to the child (e.g., by suggesting that smoking is not harmful, or that it is the socially acceptable thing to do). What's more, her incentive to quit smoking will be larger the larger her influence (in the sense described above) over the child. Hence, the social learning model predicts a positive relationship between parental influence and the parents' propensity to exert self-restraint. The authors use survey data to provide empirical evidence for the key empirical implications of model.

Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization, “Teaching by example and induced beliefs in a model of cultural transmission”, by Fabrizio Adriani, Jesse A. Matheson and Silvia Sonderegger. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2017.11.031

 

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Posted on Wednesday 13th March 2019

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