In Science we (should) trust: expectations and compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic

Cristina Bicchieri | Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics,  University of Pennsylvania (see profile here)
Thursday 4th February 2021

The magnitude and nature of the COVID-19 pandemic prevents public health policies from relying on coercive enforcement. Practicing social distancing, wearing masks and staying at home are voluntary and conditional on the behavior of others. We present the results of a large-scale survey experiment in nine countries with representative samples of the population. We find that both empirical expectations (what others do) and normative expectations (what others approve of) play a significant role in compliance, beyond the effect of any other individual or group characteristic. In our survey experiment, when empirical and normative expectations of individuals are high, compliance goes up by 55% (relative to the low expectations condition). Similar results are obtained when we look at self-reported compliance among those with high expectations. Our results are driven by an asymmetric interaction with individuals’ trust in government and science. Holding both expectations high, the effect of trusting science is substantial and significant in our vignette experiment (22% increase in compliance), and even larger in self-reported compliance (76% and 127% increase before and after the lockdown). By contrast, trusting the government only generates modest effects. At the macro level, the country-level trust in science, and not in government, becomes a strong predictor of compliance.

Access the paper (co-authored with Enrique Fatas, Abraham Aldama, Andres Casas, Ishwari Deshpande, Mariagiulia Lauro, Cristina Parilli, Max Spohn, Paula Pereira and Ruiling Wen) here:https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-106840/v1

Gang Rule

Chris Blattman | Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, University of Chicago
Thursday 18th February 2021

Gangs govern millions worldwide. Why do they rule, and how do they react to states? Many argue that criminal rule provides protection when states do not, and thus increasing state services could crowd gangs out. To investigate, we began by interviewing leaders from 30 criminal groups in Medellín. They told us that this conventional view overlooks gangs’ indirect incentives to rule: governing keeps police out and fosters civilian loyalty, protecting other illegal businesses. We present a model of duopolistic competition with returns to loyalty and show under what conditions state expansion causes gangs to increase or decrease governing. We run the first gang-level field experiment, intensifying city governance in select neighborhoods for two years, and see no decrease in gang rule. We also examine a 30-year quasi-experiment. New borders in Medellín created local discontinuities in access to government services. Gangs responded to greater state rule by governing more. We propose alternatives for countering criminal governance.

Hate Trumps Love: The Impact of Political Polarization on Social Preferences

Eugen Dimant | Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics, University of Pennsylvania
Thursday 11th March 2021

Political polarization has ruptured the fabric of U.S. society. The focus of this paper is to examine various layers of (non-)strategic decision-making that are plausibly affected by existing polarization. Through the lens of one’s feelings of hate and love for Donald J. Trump, I document the behavioral-, belief-, and norm-based mechanisms through which perceptions of interpersonal closeness, altruism, and cooperativeness are affected, both within and between political factions. Using 5 pre-registered studies comprising 13 behavioral experiments and a diverse set of about 8,000 participants, I find strong heterogeneous effects: ingroup-love occurs in the perceptional domain (how close one feels towards others), whereas outgroup-hate occurs in the behavioral domain (how one helps/harms/cooperates with others). The rich setting also allows me to examine the mechanisms: the observed intergroup conflict can be attributed to one’s grim expectations about the cooperativeness of the opposing faction, rather than one’s actual unwillingness to cooperate. A final set of experiments reveals that two popular behavioral interventions (defaults and norm-nudging) alone are insufficient to eradicate the detrimental behavioral impact of polarization.

A Mega-Study Approach to Applied Behavioral Science

Katy Milkman | The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Thursday 1st April 2021

Behavioral science can only inform policy insofar as its insights are comparable and cumulative. Typically, however, ideas are tested across different samples on different outcomes over different time intervals. We suggest a new approach: The “mega-study” is a massive field experiment in which the effects of many different interventions are compared in the same population on the same objectively measured outcome for the same duration. Our demonstration project targeted physical exercise among 61,293 members of a national fitness chain. Thirty scientists designed 54 different online experiences, 45% of which significantly boosted weekly gym visits (by 9 to 27%). Forecasts by impartial judges failed to predict which conditions would be most effective, underscoring the utility of mega-studies to improve the evidentiary value of behavioral science. Katy will also briefly discuss data from a brand new mega-study conducted with Walmart, Penn Medicine and Geisinger on encouraging vaccination.

The Behavioral Logic of Rule Following and Social Norm Compliance

Simon Gächter | Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham
Thursday 22nd April 2021

Following societal rules is a practical form of organizing large-scale cooperation and also at the heart of the age-old problem of social order. However, why and when people follow rules is only poorly understood. Here, we develop a framework that integrates individualistic and social motives of rule following. We design a minimalist rule-following task and deploy it in three series of experiments (n=14,034). We first show that individually costly rule compliance depends on normative and empirical expectations about others’ compliance. Testing our model reveals that observing non-compliance reduces own compliance and disobeyed rules lose their normative appeal. Punishment of rule violations boosts compliance and upholds the normative appeal of the rule, which in turn promotes compliance. Our study helps explain when rules are followed and when violations are bound to spread.

Disguising Prejudice: Popular Rationales as Excuses for Intolerant Expression

Chris Roth | Department of Economics, University of Warwick
Thursday 13th May 2021

We study how popular rationales enable public anti-minority actions. Rationales to oppose minorities genuinely persuade some people, but they also serve as “excuses” that may reduce the stigma associated with anti-minority expression. In a first experiment, people who donated to an anti-immigrant organization are seen as less intolerant if they were first exposed to a study claiming that immigrants disproportionately commit violent crimes. In additional experiments, participants are more willing to publicly donate to an anti-immigrant organization and post anti-immigrant content on social media when they can use popular rationales as an excuse. Our findings suggest that prominent public figures can lower the cost of intolerant expression by popularizing rationales, enabling public anti-minority behavior.

From Extreme to Mainstream: The Erosion of Social Norms

Stefano Fiorin | Department of Economics, Bocconi University
Thursday 3rd June 2021

Social norms, usually persistent, can change quickly when new public information arrives, such as a surprising election outcome. People may become more inclined to express views or take actions previously perceived as stigmatized and may judge others less negatively for doing so. We examine this possibility using two experiments. We first show via revealed preference experiments that Donald Trump’s rise in popularity and eventual victory increased individuals’ willingness to publicly express xenophobic views. We then show that individuals are sanctioned less negatively if they publicly expressed a xenophobic view in an environment where that view is more popular.

Nudging: Progress to Date and Future Directions

John Beshears | Harvard Business School
Thursday 24th June 2021

Nudges influence behavior by changing the environment in which decisions are made, without restricting the menu of options and without altering financial incentives. This paper assesses past empirical research on nudging and provides recommendations for future work in this area by discussing examples of successful and unsuccessful nudges and by analyzing 174 articles that estimate nudge treatment effects. Researchers in disciplines spanning the behavioral sciences, using varied data sources, have documented that many different types of nudges succeed in changing behavior in a wide range of domains. Nudges that automate some aspect of the decision-making process have an average effect size, measured by Cohen’s d, that is 0.193 larger than that of other nudges. Our analyses point to the need for future research to pay greater attention to (1) determining which types of nudges tend to be most impactful; (2) using field and laboratory research approaches as complementary methods; (3) measuring long-run effects of nudges; (4) considering effects of nudges on non-targeted outcomes; and (5) examining interaction effects among nudges and other interventions.

It's Not A Lie if You Believe the Norm Does Not Apply: Conditional Norm-Following with Strategic Beliefs

Silvia Sonderegger | School of Economics, University of Nottingham
Thursday 1st July 2021

We experimentally investigate the mechanisms with which strategic distortion of individual beliefs about dominant norms of honesty arise. Embedded in the context of lying, we systematically vary both the nature of elicited beliefs (descriptive about what others do, or normative about what others approve of) and a subject’s anticipation of an forthcoming lying opportunity at the belief-formation stage. We show that not all belief distortions are created equal and our empirical findings are consistent with the predictions of a dual-self model in which conditional norm-followers strategically distort their beliefs to justify self-serving behavior. Taken together, we show why, when, and what norm-relevant beliefs are strategically distorted and discuss the managerial implications of our findings.

Do Disasters Affect Adherence to Social Norms?

Max Winkler | Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
Thursday 15th July 2021

Universally, social norms prescribe behavior and attitudes, but societies differ widely in how strictly individuals hold to the norms and sanction those who do not. This paper shows that large adverse events, henceforth “disasters”, lead to tighter social norms. To establish this result, I combine data on the occurrences of conflicts, epidemics, and natural and economic disasters with the World Value Surveys, European Social Surveys, and Gallup World Polls. I use this data set to estimate the effect of disasters on the tightness of social norms in two ways: (i) investigating event-studies that compare individuals interviewed in the weeks before and after the same disaster; and (ii) examining variation in individuals’ past exposure to disasters across countries and cohorts while controlling for country-, cohort-, and life-cycle-specific factors. The event-studies demonstrate that disasters tighten social norms by 9 percent of a standard deviation. The analysis of cross-country variation shows that the effect can persist for decades and is transmitted to the subsequent generation. The results are consistent with a conceptual framework in which disasters increase the returns to coordination within groups and suggest that past exposure to disasters partially explains within-group cohesion and intolerance for non-conformism.

Three layers of the regulation of behavior in large scale societies and how they can be leveraged for behavioural change

Saadi Lahlou | Paris Institute for Advanced Study – Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, London School of Economics
Thursday 5th August 2021

Our behaviour in a given situation is a local compromise between what we would like (motives), what we can do (affordances of the environment), what we know how to do (our embodied competences), and what we are socially expected to do (institutions, including social norms). The last three types of determinants combine in local situations, in “installations” that channel our behaviour in a predictable way (a bus ride, a family dinner, a meeting at work etc.) In fact, most of our activities in public space are channelled by such installations. They make our behaviour predictable for others, to an amazing level of detail (e.g. think of how disciplined and channelled is your behaviour in the bus); which is the condition for coexistence and the smooth operation of large-scale societies. The power of installations supercedes most classic variables (e.g. all passengers in the bus behave in a similar way, whatever their age, gender, etc. and even whatever their motives for travel).

This presentation will provide (a) the framework, installation theory, to analyse this powerful behavioural channelling and the reasons for its efficiency and resilience (b) the mechanisms by which installations reproduce practice, material culture and norms in society (c) how this natural societal process can be hacked and leveraged by interventions to change behaviour.

Gender norms and health, insights from global survey data

Ben Cislaghi | London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Gary Darmstadt | Stanford University
Thursday 26th August 2021

Using innovative approaches to analysing proxies for gender norms, we generated evidence that gender norms impact the health of women and men across life stages, health sectors, and world regions. Six case studies showed that: (1) gender norms are complex and can intersect with other social factors to impact health over the life course; (2) early gender-normative influences by parents and peers can have multiple and differing health consequences for girls and boys; (3) non-conformity with, and transgression of, gender norms can be harmful to health, particularly when they trigger negative sanctions; and (4) the impact of gender norms on health can be context-specific, demanding care when designing effective gender-transformative health policies and programmes.

Measuring Norms: Assessing Normative Expectation Elicitation Methods

Diego Aycinena| Universidad del Rosario
Thursday 16th September 2021

Economists have been giving increasing attention to the influence of social norms in human behavior. Measuring the expectations that underpin social norms poses an empirical challenge. Experimental economists have devoted ample attention to examine the properties of methods to elicit (factual) beliefs, which can be naturally adapted to elicit empirical expectations. However, incentive compatibility of normative expectations’ elicitation is not straightforward. Experimental economists have turned to two methods to elicit normative expectations. The method introduced by Bicchieri and Xiao (2009) [BX] uses a two-step incentivized elicitation of second-order normative beliefs. The method introduced by Krupka and Weber (2013) [KW] uses a coordination game (with multiple equilibria), where subjects are incentivized to match the modal responses of other participants, in order to elicit higher-order beliefs regarding the social appropriateness of alternative actions. In this project, we report data from several studies in the lab using variations of Dictator Games and vignettes of naturally occurring situations –that allow us to assesses the ecological validity of these methods. The main goal is to examine the properties, potential weaknesses, and proposed modifications to the two main methods used for eliciting normative expectations. BX’s implicit assumption in the second-order belief elicitation is that individuals assume (correctly or incorrectly) that responders self-report their PNB truthfully. If there is Social Desirability Bias (SDB) in the elicitation of PNB and subjects anticipate SDB of PNB responses, there would be a systematic measurement error in the elicitation of normative expectations. We assess in the lab the robustness to SDB. Additionally, PNBs are usually elicited as a singleton, which may magnify the risk of type I error (eliciting norms where they do not apply), thus we examine to what extent a variation of BX based on the Belief Elicitation by Superimposition Approach (BESA: Fragiadakis, et al. 2019) is better able at characterizing the full distribution of normative expectations. In the KW, the combination of cardinality and an even number of items could lead to improper measurement of asymmetries around a norm and to the equal judgment of actions that are unequal from a normative point of view. For this method, we examine whether it can be improved by adding a neutral option that may allow examining an asymmetry in normative expectations regarding transgressions of the normatively prescribed action.

A new manifesto for applied behavioral science

Michael Hallsworth | Behavioural Insights Team North America
Thursday 7th October 2021

There has been an explosion of interest in applied behavioral science over the last decade, prompted in part by the creation of BIT back in 2010. But, to fulfill its true potential, behavioral science needs to continue to evolve over its next decade. This talk sets out ten proposals to move the field towards those bigger goals, including:

  • How behavioral science should deal with complex adaptive systems
  • How to behavioral scientists should make predictions and feedback part of their standard practices
  • How to strengthen the theoretical frameworks of applied behavioral science
  • How to combine behavioral and data science to advance equity
  • How to embed behavioral science more successfully into organizations

A new manifesto for applied behavioral science

Raymond Duch | Nuffield Centre for Experimental Social Sciences (CESS), University of Oxford
Thursday 21st October 2021

We implemented a field experiment, in collaboration with the Comptroller General Office of Chile (CGO) and the NGO Chile Transparente, that assesses whether citizens update beliefs regarding corruption when they are presented with audit information about malfeasance in their municipal government. The treatment delivered on WhatsApp consists of a short information video that reports the results of the CGO 2020 municipal audits; subjects in control receive a placebo video. We measure incentivized pre-treatment corruption beliefs of 5,525 subjects and then post-treatment beliefs one week and one month after the video information treatment. There is a significant treatment effect that is correlated with the amount of malfeasance reported in the subject’s municipality. Learning is not Bayesian – errors in priors regarding corruption are not correlated with updating. Updating is not responsive to signals about change in reported municipal corruption levels – subjects simply update negatively when they are informed about corruption in their municipality. Learning in this experiment is not spurious. Treatment effects persist after a one-month period. Subjects are asked to make a voluntary, costly, contribution to their local municipality – we observe higher donations for treated subjects in municipalities that perform positively in the 2020 audit.

Driving Digital Transformation

Matt Lasmanis | Sage Therapeutics
Thursday 4th November 2021

Matt Lasmanis discusses strategic leadership amidst digital transformation, industry shifts and culture changes.

The role of group identity in fostering political polarization

Yan Chen | School of Information, University of Michigan
Thursday 18th November 2021

Identifying the foundations of political polarization is a pressing issue across the social sciences. Our study lends insight to this matter through a nationally representative online experiment exploring how (partisan) group identity shapes the process of political opinion formation. In the week prior to the 2020 US presidential election, we incentivized participants to predict how policy-sensitive statistics develop over the next year, conditional on which candidate becomes president. Participants can update their initial predictions after selecting or exogenously receiving factually similar articles on the respective topics curated from news sources with a right- or left-leaning slant. Our results show that those individuals whose behavior is responsive to group identities are both initially more politically polarized and exhibit a stronger partisan bias during the process of opinion formation: (i) their initial predictions about the development of policy-sensitive statistics more strongly depend on whether their candidate becomes president or not; (ii) the partisan gap between these predictions increases more strongly after reading two curated articles with a right- and left-leaning slant, respectively; and (iii) they exhibit a stronger taste for articles curated from politically congenial than politically opposing news sources. Further, in a treatment manipulation we find that reducing the salience of group identity by de-labeling the source of information decreases partisan bias in information demand, especially for participants sensitive to group identity. Overall, our results suggest that through its role in the process of opinion formation, the group identity roots of partisanship are a key factor contributing to political polarization.

Teaching Norms: Direct Evidence of Parental Transmission

Marie Claire Villeval | National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and GATE research institute, University of Lyon
Thursday 2nd December 2021

We examine the educative role played by parents in social norm transmission. Using a field experiment, we study whether parents enforce and comply more with social norms when their children are present compared to when they are not. We compare similar parents when or after they bring or pick up their children at school. We find that parents accompanying children, in contrast to parents alone, are more likely to punish norm violators and to provide help to strangers when there is no violation.They also tend to substitute more direct punishment with withholding help as a means of indirect punishment.

Research byThijs Brouwer, Fabio Galeotti, and Marie Claire Villeval

Penn Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics Working Paper Series Launch Event

Cristina Bicchieri & CSNBD Members
Thursday 9th December 2021

Official launch event of the Penn Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics Working Paper Series! The series will showcase pre-publication versions of the interdisciplinary work that our Center members and affiliates are doing around the world. Hear from the authors of the first contributions, including:

Presentation of the Series
Cristina Bicchieri

In Science we (Should) Trust: Expectations and Compliance During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Enrique Fatas

Nudging Enforcers: How Norm Perceptions and Motives for Lying Shape Sanctions
Eugen Dimant

Perceived Inequality and Policy Preferences
Abraham Aldama

Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria: the Social Norms and Accountable Governance Project
Raj Patel

Improving Sanitation Practices Using Norm-Based Interventions: Evidence from Tamil Nadu
Alex Shpenev, Sania Ashraf, and Kavita Chauhan

The Power of Narratives in Social Norm Interventions: A Study of the Civic Culture Initiatives by Antanas Mockus in Bogota, Colombia
Paulius Yamin

Gender Differences in Meaningful Work: Drivers and Implications

Stephan Meier | Columbia Business School
Thursday 16th December 2021

An understanding of gender differences in non-monetary work conditions is fundamental for a complete characterization of gender inequalities in the labor market. We examine one such condition—meaningful work—using nationally representative survey data linked with worker and employer administrative data. We document a large and expanding female advantage in meaningful work. We then explore potential drivers of, and implications of, this gap. We find little support for explanations based in labor market decisions related to first parenthood or women’s under-representation in leadership jobs. In contrast, women’s advantage appears driven to a large extent by sorting into jobs with a high level of beneficence—the sense of having a prosocial impact. Such jobs drive meaningfulness for both genders, but women benefit even more, which we link to an alignment between beneficence and the female gender role. Turning to implications, women’s advantage in meaningful work compensates for about one third of the gender wage gap in the lower half of the wage distribution while being unimportant for this gap in the upper half. We also uncover suggestive evidence linking men’s lower levels of meaning to the political trend of grievance-based mobilization for the populist radical right.

(Joint work with Vanessa Burbano, Olle Folke, and Johanna Rickne)

Understanding and Reducing Online Misinformation Across 16 Countries on Six Continents

Dave Rand | Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Thursday 13th January 2022

The spread of misinformation online is a global problem that requires global solutions. To that end, we conducted an experiment in 16 countries across 6 continents (N = 33,480) to investigate predictors of susceptibility to misinformation and interventions to combat misinformation. In every country, participants with a more analytic cognitive style and stronger accuracy-related motivations were better at discerning truth from falsehood; valuing democracy was also associated with greater truth discernment whereas political conservatism was negatively associated with truth discernment in most countries. Subtly prompting people to think about accuracy was broadly effective at improving the veracity of news that people were willing to share, as were minimal digital literacy tips. Finally, crowdsourced fact-checking was able to differentiate true from false headlines with high accuracy in all countries. The consistent patterns we observe suggest that the psychological factors underlying the misinformation challenge are similar across the globe, and that similar solutions may be broadly effective.

Deconstructing Bias in Social Preferences

Rachel Kranton | Duke University
Thursday 27th January 2022

Group divisions are a continual feature of human societies, and experiments in social psychology and economics find evidence of in-group bias. This research deconstructs the typical in-group bias in allocation decisions and social preferences. Using with-in subject designs, the experiments indicate that average pattern of bias is not descriptive of individual behavior. Some people respond to group divisions, but others do not; there are stable individual predilections to engage in group-related discrimination. The findings point to a role for individual “groupiness” in understanding social divisions. Further investigation shows the tendency towards bias can be countered by providing idiosyncratic information about in-group and out-group members.

Affective Decision Making and Moral Sentiments

Alexander Vostroknutov | Maastricht University
Thursday 10th February 2022

We propose a new modeling framework to study affective decision making, which produces many notorious “irrationalities” in human behavior. Building on biologically-inspired models of reinforcement learning, we provide a description of a boundedly-rational affective agent who holds mood-dependent beliefs and exhibits prospect-theory-like behaviors in situations with uncertainty. By construction, affective agents possess personal and social identities and desire to achieve higher social status, which allows them to cooperate with other like-minded agents. We show how moral sentiments, indicative of adherence to identity-based norms, emerge to strengthen cooperation even further. The model of affective decision making and moral sentiments complements our previous work on moral reasoning among rational agents (“A Theory of Injunctive Norms”). Together, the two models constitute an attempt at a general framework to study norm-driven human behavior.

Not born yesterday: Why people are less gullible than we think

Hugo Mercier | Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS
Thursday 24th February 2022

It is often thought that humans are gullible, easily manipulated by demagogues, advertisers, and politicians. I will argue that the opposite is true: humans are equipped with a set of psychological mechanisms that allow them to properly evaluate communicated information, and to reject information that is false or harmful. I will rely on experimental psychology data, as well as studies showing the failures of mass persuasion, from Nazi propaganda to American presidential campaigns. I will also offer explanations for the success of some misconceptions that are not based on credulity.

Equal Before The (Expressive Power of) Law?

Daniele Nosenzo | Aarhus University
Thursday 10th March 2022

Building on findings showing that laws exert a causal effect on social norms, this paper investigates whether this “expressive power of law” differs by gender or race. Using an incentivized vignette experiment, we directly measure social norms relating to actions subject to legal thresholds (e.g., driving above/below speed limit; possession of marijuana above/below legal limit; etc.) and vary the gender and race of the person engaging in the action or of the person affected by the action.

Results from an online sample of around 4000 subjects confirm that laws causally influence social norms. However, we find little evidence of a differential effect of the law on norms across gender or race, suggesting that gender and race biases in the legal system are driven by other mechanisms than differences in the expressive power of law.

 

Traditional Supernatural Beliefs and Prosocial Behavior

Sara Lowes | University of California, San Diego
Thursday 7th April 2022

In sub-Saharan Africa, traditional supernatural beliefs, including belief in witchcraft, black magic, or fetishism, are widespread. Some have hypothesized that these beliefs help to sustain cooperative behavior in a setting where the state is often absent. Others have documented that, at least at a macro-level, such beliefs are negatively associated with prosocial behavior. We contribute to a better understanding of the causal effects of these traditional supernatural beliefs by using lab-in-the-field experiments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Participants complete a range of experimental tasks where one player chooses whether to act in a prosocial manner towards another player. Participants are randomly assigned to another player that has either a strong or weak belief in witchcraft, and this information is known by the players. We find that participants act less prosocially towards randomly-assigned partners who believe more strongly in witchcraft. We also find that antisocial behavior is more socially acceptable and prosocial behavior less socially acceptable when playing with a partner who believes more strongly in witchcraft. Our findings suggest that the negative relationship between witchcraft and prosocial outcomes observed in the data may, in fact, be due to the causal effect of the presence of traditional supernatural beliefs on people’s behavior.

Access the paper (co-authored with Etienne Le Rossignol & Nathan Nunn) here: https://www.nber.org/papers/w29695

Cultural Evolutionary Behavioral Science in Public Policy

Michael Muthukrishna | LSE
Thursday 21st April 2022

Interventions are to the social sciences what inventions are to the physical sciences—an application of science as technology. Behavioural science has emerged as a powerful toolkit for developing public policy interventions for changing behaviour. However, the translation from principles to practice is often moderated by contextual factors—such as culture—that thwart attempts to generalize past successes. Here we discuss cultural evolution as a framework for addressing this contextual gap. We describe the history of behavioural science and the role that cultural evolution plays as a natural next step. We review research that may be considered cultural evolutionary behavioural science in public policy, and the promise and challenges to designing cultural evolution informed interventions. Finally, we discuss the value of applied research as a crucial test of basic science: if theories, lab, and field experiments don’t work in the real world, they don’t work at all.

Access the paper (co-authored with Robin Schimmelpfennig) here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4057679

Conspiracy Beliefs and Resistance to Collective Action

Dan Romer | University of Pennsylvania
Thursday 5th May 2022

Social norms are critical for mobilizing collective action, especially in the context of a pandemic which requires high levels of cooperation to combat a contagious disease. The Annenberg Public Policy Center has been studying the role of American’s conspiracy beliefs as barriers to achieving consensus on such behaviors as vaccination or mask wearing. In this presentation, I will review evidence that conspiracy beliefs about the pandemic have been promoted by various political and media forces that have undermined trust in health authorities, reduced concerns about the coronavirus, and underscored long-standing doubts about the efficacy of vaccines resulting in lack of adoption of vaccination by a significant segment of the US population. We find that conspiratorial thinking tendencies that predate the pandemic are a major source of the current wave of vaccination hesitancy. The same conspiratorial tendencies were at work in the recent attempt to reverse the 2020 presidential election. The findings raise serious concerns about the ability of democratic societies to reach consensus in times of crisis.

Access the paper (co-authored with Kathleen Hall Jamieson) here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32967786/

Maximizing Default Choice Menu Utility

Kwabena Baah Donkor | Stanford University
Thursday 19th May 2022

This paper theoretically and empirically analyzes the trade-offs between consumption versus norm conformity and choosing from a menu of default (pre-selected) options versus opting to compute a preferred non-menu choice. In the theoretical model, peoples’ choices depend on “intrinsic” utility (consumption), norm conformity, and menu opt-out costs. First, I empirically estimate the model using passengers’ tips sampled from 863 million NYC Yellow taxis rides and find that the costs of deviating from the norm tip and opting out of the default tip menu are large relative to the taxi fare. Next, I evaluate the stakes, menu, and context-dependence of the norm tip and norm conformity by exploiting quasi-experimental variation resulting from changes in the fare, the default tip menu, and analyzing tipping behavior when passengers travel: (1) alone versus with co-riders, (2) under bad weather conditions, and (3) during the gift-giving season. I then analyze the welfare implications of norm conformity and default menus.

Identity and Economic Incentives

Lorenz Götte | University of Bonn
Thursday 2nd June 2022

In many situations, an individual’s sense of identity conflicts with economic incentives: if employees identify with their firm, do they invest sufficiently in competing firms to hedge their risk? How do environmentalists feel about investing their savings into oil and gas? Identity can affect  such decisions through multiple channels: it can directly cause a psychological cost to invest into assets that violate one’s sense of identity. However, identity could also affect beliefs about the payoffs. We present a simple model that allows us to distinguish between these two channels. We apply the model in the context of Premier League clubs: in two large-scale field experiments, we present subjects with the option to invest into a range of bets that involve their supported team winning, losing or drawing. We also present them with bets that do not involve any team they support. We measure their beliefs over outcomes and measure their investments. This allows us to estimate their risk aversion, and identify the impact of identity on beliefs and the psychological costs from betting against one’s identity.

Information Acquisition and Social Norm Formation

Fabio Galeotti | Gate-Lab – CNRS
Thursday 16th June 2022

We investigate whether the ability of individuals to select their source of information affects the influence of social information on behavior and on empirical and normative beliefs in the ethical domain. In a large scale (N=1945) online lying game, we vary across treatments whether individuals can access empirical or normative information from others, and the presence of group identity in terms of political affiliation. We show that information search is motivated self-servingly, as a majority of individuals manage to consume more lenient information. This bias depends on whether own party is or not the source of lenient information. Selecting a more lenient source of normative information increases the willingness to lie, and affect empirical beliefs. Normative beliefs are influenced neither by empirical nor normative information. A follow-up experiment (N=2414) reveals that assigning the source of information exogenously weakens the influence of social information, with little effect of polarization.

Beatlemania (!)

Cass Sunstein | Harvard University
Thursday 30th June 2022

Why did the Beatles become a worldwide sensation? Why do some cultural products succeed and others fail? Why are some musicians, poets, and novels,, unsuccessful or unknown in their lifetimes, iconic figures decades or generation after their deaths? Why are success and failure so unpredictable? On one view, the simplest and most general explanation is best, and it points to quality, appropriately measured: success is a result of quality, and the Beatles succeeded because of the sheer quality of their music. On another view, social influences are critical: timely enthusiasm or timely indifference can make the difference for all, including the Beatles, leading extraordinary books, movies, and songs to fail even if they are indistinguishable in quality from those that succeed. Informational cascades are often necessary for spectacular success; in some cases, they are both necessary and sufficient. For those who emphasize social influences and informational cascades, success and failure are not inevitable; they depend on seemingly small or serendipitous factors. History is only run once, so this proposition is difficult to prove. There is no question that the success of the Beatles, and the rise of Beatlemania, involved an informational cascade. But whether and in what sense that success was a product of serendipity, or contingent on factors that are elusive and perhaps even lost to history, is essentially unanswerable. If ‘Love Me Do’ had not been a hit, it is not entirely unfair to wonder whether the Beatles would have enjoyed anything like the spectacular success they had. We may doubt that in a counterfactual world, there might have been Kinksmania or Holliesmania, but research on ‘Lost Einsteins’ suggests that it might be reckless to rule out the possibility that some other band, obscure or unknown, might have taken the place of the Beatles.

Systemic Discrimination: Theory and Measurement

Peter Hull | Brown University
Thursday 14th July 2022

Economics tends to define and measure discrimination as disparities stemming from the direct (causal) effects of protected group membership. But work in other fields notes that such measures are incomplete, as they can miss important systemic (i.e. indirect) channels. For example, racial disparities in criminal records due to discrimination in policing can lead to disparate outcomes for equally-qualified job applicants despite a race-neutral hiring rule. We develop new tools for modeling and measuring both direct and systemic forms of discrimination. We define systemic discrimination as emerging from group-based differences in non-group characteristics, conditional on a measure of individual qualification. We formalize sources of systemic discrimination as disparities in signaling technologies and opportunities for skill development. Notably, standard tools for measuring direct discrimination, such as audit or correspondence studies, cannot detect systemic discrimination. We propose a measure of systemic discrimination based on a novel decomposition of total discrimination—disparities that condition on underlying qualification—into direct and systemic components. This decomposition highlights the type of data needed to measure systemic discrimination and guides identification strategies in both observational and (quasi-)experimental data. We illustrate these tools in two hiring experiments. Our findings highlight how discrimination in one domain, due to either accurate beliefs or bias, can drive persistent disparities through systemic channels even when direct discrimination is eliminated.

Determinants of Norm Compliance: Moral Similarity and Group Identification

Erin Krupka | University of Michigan
Thursday 28th July 2022

What determines whether someone complies with a social norm? The social identity approach offers a mechanism for norm compliance: a person who feels similar to a group identifies more with that group and, in turn, complies with the group’s norms. We used an economics experiment to test this mechanism. We manipulated the similarity between an individual and a social group by exogenously changing their similarity in moral values. Moral values were identified using a survey developed in conjunction with moral foundations theory. In one treatment, the subject and social group’s moral values were similar, and in another, they were dissimilar. Subsequently, we measured group identification and behavior. To measure behavior, we used a modified rule-following task in which the social group expressed a normative expectation that subjects follow “the rule”. We found that moral similarity increased group identification, and group identification increased rule compliance. We show that this behavior change was due to increased group norm sensitivity rather than changes in the group norms. We advance the study of social identity by establishing a causal pathway between group identification and behavior change.

(With Alexander Schneeberg)