About NoBec Talks

NoBeC (Norms and Behavioral Change) Talks showcase interdisciplinary early career and senior researchers working on norms and behavioral change around the world.

Organized by the Penn Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics in partnership with the Penn Philosophy, Politics & Economics (PPE) program.

The Economic Value of Norm Conformity and Menu-Opt-Out Costs

Kwabena Baah Donkor | Stanford University (see profile here)
Thursday 19th May 2022 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 10:30 pm)

This paper theoretically and empirically analyzes trade-offs between consumption versus norm-adherence and choosing from a menu of default options versus computing a non-default choice. In the theoretical model, peoples’ choices depend on consumption, norm conformity, and menu-opt-out costs. Using passengers’ tips sampled from a billion NYC taxi rides, I empirically estimate the model parameters. I find that the cost of deviating from the norm tip and opting out of the default tip menu are both high relative to the taxi fare. I then examine the welfare implications of norm conformity and the positive and normative effects of default menu design.

Access the paper here.

Lorenz Götte | University of Bonn (see profile here)
Thursday 2nd June 2022 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 10:30 pm)
Fabio Galeotti | Gate-Lab – CNRS (see profile here)
Thursday 16th June 2022 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 10:30 pm)
Cass Sunstein | Harvard University (see profile here)
Thursday 30th June 2022 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 10:30 pm)

Systemic Discrimination: Theory and Measurement

Peter Hull | Brown University (see profile here)
Thursday 14th July 2022 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 10:30 pm)

Determinants of Norm Compliance: Moral Similarity and Group Identification

Erin Krupka | University of Michigan (see profile here)
Thursday 28th July 2022 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 10:30 pm)

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)

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.

Early Career Researchers (including PhD Students and Post-Docs), we want to hear from you!
Send us your info and a 5-minute video explaining your research related (broadly) to social norms and behavioral change and we’ll broadcast it to an international audience of researchers at the beginning of one of our NoBeC Talks!

Social Norms Explain the Effects of Incentives on Prosocial Behavior

Caroline Graf | PhD student, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands)
4th February 2021

Incentives have surprisingly inconsistent effects when it comes to encouraging people to behave prosocially. That is, the effects of incentives vary across incentive types, private versus public settings and across countries. Previous theoretical accounts have explained these phenomena by postulating an additive effect of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and reputational motivation. We build on these theories, but introduce a key theoretical modification: Reputational motivation depends on social norms. We empirically test our model on the real-world prosocial behavior of blood donation using a comparative dataset comprising representative samples from 28 European countries. We find that social norms can account for the varying effects of financial and time incentives on donation behavior across countries. That is, incentives were associated with higher levels of prosociality when social norms regarding the incentive were more positive. The results indicate that social norms regarding incentives play an important role in determining the effect of incentives on prosocial behavior.

Information about Inequality and Support for Redistribution

Abraham Aldama | Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania (US)
18th February 2021

Since the 1960s, income inequality has increased in the US. However, taxation on the rich has decreased in the same period. The literature has provided several explanations for why this might be the case. We focus on people’s perception of the extent of inequality. Using a large scale online experiment, we find that providing information about inequality and incentives to overcome cognitive and ideiological biases changes people’s perceptions about the extent of inequality in the US. However, this does not translate into changes in the demand for redistribution through either public or private means. We further find that the lack of change in preferences is not driven by differential responses across across a number of subgroups.

Drivers of conformity in social behaviour

Folco Panizza | Postdoctoral Researcher, Vita Salute San Raffaele University (Italy)
11th March 2021

Learning social behaviour of others strongly influences one’s own social attitudes. We compare several distinct explanations of this phenomenon, testing their predictions using computational modelling across four experimental conditions. In the experiment, participants chose repeatedly whether to pay for increasing (prosocial) or decreasing (antisocial) the earnings of an unknown other. Halfway through the task, participants predicted the choices of an extremely prosocial or antisocial agent (either a computer, a single participant, or a group of participants). Our analyses indicate that participants polarise their social attitude mainly due to normative expectations. Specifically, most participants conform to presumed demands by the authority (vertical influence), or because they learn that the observed human agents follow the norm very closely (horizontal influence).

Promoting social distancing in a pandemic: Beyond the good intentions

Sarah Zaccagni | Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
1st April 2021

Do reminders to promote social distancing achieve the desired effects? Much of the existing literature analyses impacts on people’s intentions to comply. We run a randomised controlled trial in Denmark to test different versions of a reminder to stay home at the beginning of the crisis. Using a two-stage design, we follow up with recipients and analyse their subsequent behaviour. We find that the reminder increases ex-ante intentions to comply when it emphasises the consequences of non-compliance for the subjects themselves and their families, while it has no effect when the emphasis is on other people or the country as a whole. We also find, however, that impacts on intentions do not translate into equivalent impacts on actions. This is despite the possibility that respondents may tend to over-report compliance. Only people in poor health react to the reminder by staying home more. Our results shed light on important gaps between people’s intentions and their actions in responding to the recommendations of health authorities.

Bribery across borders - Experimental evidence on conditional corruption from 21 countries

Nils Köbis | Postdoctoral Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Human Development (Germany)
22nd April 2021

Large behavioral studies have analyzed individual forms of unethical behavior, like cheating, worldwide. The findings suggest that stark and relatively stable differences between countries concerning unethical behavior exist. Yet, many forms of unethical behavior are transactional and involve multiple parties, like bribery. To gain first behavioral insights that allow comparing the occurrence of bribery across and between countries, we ran large incentivized online experiments using a bribery game with representative samples (in terms of age and gender) from 21 countries (total N = 6472) across six continents. In contrast to previous research, all participants were paired with a participant from each of the other countries, enabling first, comprehensive behavioral insights into cross-national dyadic forms of unethical behavior. The results uncover vast intra-individual variation, suggestive of what we label “conditional bribery” — people offering bribes to interaction partners from countries that are (expected to be) corrupt. Importantly, these beliefs do not correlate with reality.

When Women and Racial Minorities Seek Help, Mentioning Their Demographic Identity is an Asset

Erika Kirgios | PhD Student, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (US)
13th May 2021

Receiving help can make or break a career, but women and racial minorities do not always receive the instrumental support they seek. Across two audit experiments—one with politicians and another with students—as well as an online experiment (total N = 5,148), we test whether women and racial minorities benefit from explicitly mentioning their demographic identity in requests for help (e.g., by including statements like “As a Black woman. . . ” in their communications). We propose that when someone highlights their marginalized identity, it activates prospective helpers’ motivations to avoid prejudiced reactions. This ultimately increases prospective helpers’ willingness to provide support. Consistent with this theorizing, when marginalized identity group members explicitly mentioned their demographic identity in help-seeking emails, politicians and students responded 24.4% and 79.6% more often, respectively. Our online experiment suggests this effect is driven by prospective helpers’ increased desire to respond without prejudice.

Uncovering Hidden Opinions: The contagion of Xenophobic Views

Amalia Alvarez-Benjumea | Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods (Germany)
3rd June 2021

Research has shown that anti-prejudice norms are widespread and generally supported by society, yet examples of prejudice can be found often. I argue that anti-prejudice norms can easily erode when individuals observe examples of norm-violations. As a result, exposure to prejudice speech makes it more likely that individuals will express their prejudice. To test this, participants were invited to take part in a controlled online forum on immigration issues. The comments of participants exposed to xenophobic speech were compared to those not exposed. The empirical results show that observing hateful comments of others erodes own norm-compliance: the more hateful comments participants could observe, the more hateful subsequent comments. Furthermore, the effect is larger amongst those more likely to hold anti-immigrant views. I believe this is evidence of an “emboldening effect”, that is, in the absence of prejudiced speech, prejudiced citizens constrain the expression of their prejudice. However, if xenophobic speech seems to be socially accepted, hidden attitudes are revealed. The results imply that norms can easily erode and that the preservation of a “norm environment” requires sustained reinforcement of the norm.

Non-selfish behavior: Are social preferences or social norms revealed in distribution decisions?

Nina Weber | PhD Student, King’s College London (U.K.)
24th June 2021

People frequently choose to reduce own payoffs to help others. This non-selfish behavior is typically assumed to arise because people are motivated by social preferences. An alternative explanation is that they follow social norms. We test which of these two accounts can better explain subjects’ decisions in a simple distribution game. Unlike previous studies, we elicit preferences and perceived norms directly for each subject. We find that norm-following explains people’s distributive choices better than social preferences, and lack of confidence in one’s social preference predicts norm-following. Our findings have implications for the strength of the Pareto criterion in welfare evaluations.

Personal norms - and not only social norms - shape economic behavior

Eugenio Verrina | Postdoctoral Researcher, GATE CNRS (France)
1st July 2021

While social norms have received great attention within economics, little is known about the role of personal norms. We propose a simple utility framework and design a novel two-part experiment to study their relevance across various economic games and settings. We show that personal norms – together with social norms and monetary payoff – are highly predictive of individuals’ behavior. Moreover, they are: i) distinct from social norms across a series of economic contexts, ii) robust to an exogenous increase in the salience of social norms, and iii) complementary to social norms in predicting behavior. Our findings support personal norms as a key driver of economic behavior.

Strategic Behavior with Tight and Loose Norms

Anna Hochleitner | PhD student, University of Nottingham (UK)
15th July 2021

A large body of literature has shown that social norms can be a powerful driver of human behavior, and norm interventions often focus on shifting beliefs about average or majoritarian behavior. This work addresses a less studied aspect of norms, namely their strength or tightness. We investigate how individuals react to different distributions of co-player behavior within the context of a strategic game — the public good game (PGG) — where subjects strongly condition their actions on those of their opponent. We focus on the difference between tight (i.e., characterized by low behavioral variance) and loose (i.e., characterized by high behavioral variance) norm environments. Our data show that individual responses vary considerably in these two cases, with loose norms generating more variance in individual responses compared to tight norms. In other words, “tight breeds tight” and “loose breeds loose”. What’s more, when confronted with a polarized (U-shaped) distribution of the opponent’s contribution, people’s reactions are also polarized. Finally, we find that, in loose environments, personal values have a stronger predictive power for individual behavior than in the case of tight norms. This shows that it is crucial to consider differences in the strength of norms in order to understand their impact on behavior.

Fear of COVID-19 changes economic preferences: Evidence from a repeated cross-sectional MTurk survey

Abdelaziz Alsharawy | PhD graduate, Virginia Tech (US)
5th August 2021

The personal experience of events such as financial crises and natural disasters can alter economic preferences. We administered a repeated cross-sectional preference survey during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, collecting three bi-weekly samples from participants recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk. The survey elicits economic preferences, self-reported fear of the pandemic, and beliefs about economic and health consequences. Preferences varied over time and across regions, and self-reported fear of the pandemic explains this variation. These findings suggest caution with regard to the generalizability of some types of experimental work during times of heightened fear.

Gender norms among adolescents in two communities of the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, Panamá

Amanda Gabster | Researcher, Gorgas Memorial Institute for Health Studies (Panama)
26th August 2021

The Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé (CNB), an administratively autonomous Indigenous region in western Panama. This Comarca is home to over 200,000 rural Indigenous peoples of Ngäbe and Buglé ethnicities. HIV prevalence in the Comarca is two times higher than the national average and is concentrated in young men. Gender norms, defined by Cislaghi, et al. as social norms that define acceptable behaviour for women and men, play a role in shaping women and men´s voice and agency and play a role in sexual decision making. Gender norms may be different across different societies. Despite the importance of gender norms and the high prevalence of HIV among youth in the CNB, there are little data regarding gender norms and sexual behaviour among the Ngäbe and Buglé peoples. This presentation focuses on qualitative research undertaken between January and March 2018, among 20 young men and women of the CNB. The presentation describes the findings of young women´s voice and therefore agency in the decision to engage in sex.

Helping the Climate Because Others Do Psychological Predictors of Intention to Perform High Impact Pro-Environmental Behaviors

Erik Thulin| Director, Behavioral Science, Center for Behavior & the Environment, Rare (US)
16th September 2021

Individual behaviors are major contributors to climate change, and changing those behaviors can have a major effect on the magnitude of the climate crisis. To best design interventions to change these behaviors, and target those most likely to change, we must understand the psychological motivations for engaging in them. Previous work has identified environmental beliefs, political orientation, and social expectations as having significant effects on performing pro-environmental behaviors (PEBs). However, this work has tended to focus on lower impact, commonly performed behaviors. In this exploratory study, we evaluate the relevance of these three constructs on predicting individuals’ intention to perform four behaviors previously identified as some of the highest impact individual actions to mitigate greenhouse gas production: driving an electric vehicle, purchasing carbon offsets, switching to a green energy provider, and installing solar panels. Of those three constructs, we find that only social expectations is a strong consistent predictor of intending to perform these high-impact PEBs. These findings suggest that highlighting others performing these behaviors, rather than framing actions in appeals to climate beliefs or targeting those on the political left, may be a particularly effective intervention strategy to drive individual action to mitigate climate change.

On the value of investigating experiences and perceptions of nudges

Patrik Michaelsen | Researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
21st October 2021

I outline some reasons why we should care more about how people experience and perceive nudge-style behavior change interventions, and give a (very) brief presentation of some empirical findings.

The cost of social division

Manu Munoz| Postdoctoral Researcher, NYU Abu Dhabi (UAE)
4th November 2021

I study how identity choice can be an instrument of change when members of a minority group are socially excluded by the dominant group for following an inefficient social norm. In this paper I study the problem of identity choice both theoretically and experimentally, looking at the trade-off for minority members between maintaining their inefficient behavior as a unit or adopting the group identity of the majority and joining a more efficient collective. I find that social division is a prominent outcome, in which the minority divides into some that abandon the group’s identity and others that persist on it. Social division has costly consequences not only on those who persist on the inefficient form of behavior. People who change their group identity to integrate with the majority have significantly less chances to succeed when they come from a socially divided minority. When looking at the determinants of social division, I find that groups that have a system of sanctions to prevent their members from leaving are more likely to end up fractured. Thus, policies focused on reducing the barriers to leave inefficient social groups and not only on increasing the benefits of integration may mitigate the costs of social division.

Persuading Republicans and Democrats to Comply with Mask Wearing

Dylan Pieper | Research Specialist, University of Maryland
18th November 2021

Many people practiced COVID-19-related safety measures in the first year of the pandemic, but Republicans were less likely to engage in behaviors such as wearing masks or face coverings than Democrats, suggesting radical disparities in health practices split along political fault lines. We developed an “intervention tournament” which aimed to identify the framings that would promote mask wearing among a representative sample of Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. (N = 4,931). Seven different conditions reflecting different moral values and factors specific to COVID-19—including protection from harm (self), protection from harm (community), patriotic duty, purity, reviving the economy, threat, and scientific evidence—were implemented to identify which framings would “win” in terms of promoting mask wearing compared to a baseline condition. We found that Republicans had significantly more negative attitudes toward masks, lower intentions to wear them, and were less likely to sign or share pledges on social media than Democrats, which was partially mediated by Republicans, compared to Democrats, perceiving that the threat of COVID-19 was lower. None of our framing conditions significantly affected Republicans’ or Democrats’ attitudes, intentions, or behaviors compared to the baseline condition, illustrating the difficulty in overcoming the strength of political polarization during COVID-19.

Politicizing Mask-Wearing: Predicting the Success of Behavioral Interventions Among Republicans and Democrats

Elena Giuila Clemente | Pre-Doctoral Research Analyst, Stockholm School of Economics & Swedish House of Finance
2nd December 2021

Scientists and policymakers seek to choose effective interventions that promote preventative health measures. We evaluated whether academics, behavioral science practitioners, and laypeople (N = 1,034) were able to forecast the effectiveness of seven different messages compared to a baseline message for Republicans and Democrats separately. These messages were designed to nudge mask-wearing attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. When examining prediction error across political parties, forecasters predicted larger effects than those observed for Democrats compared to Republicans and made more accurate predictions for Republicans compared to Democrats. These results are partly driven by a lack of nudge effects on Democrats, as reported in Gelfand et al. (2021). Academics and practitioners made more accurate predictions compared to laypeople. Although forecasters’ predictions were correlated with the nudge interventions, all groups overpredicted the observed results. We discuss how accurate forecasts of behavioral intervention outcomes provide insight that can help save resources and increase the efficacy of interventions by updating the accuracy of forecasters’ beliefs.

Norm-signalling punishment

Nina Xue | PhD Student, Monash University
16th December 2021

Literature on punishment and cooperation has presented conflicting findings. While in some settings, punishment crowds out norm compliance and backfires, in others, it communicates norms and promotes cooperation. We examine whether the punisher’s motives can help reconcile the conflicting results through a novel paradigm in which the decision maker’s outcomes are identical in two environments, but vary whether punishment is self-serving (potentially benefits the punisher) or altruistic (potentially benefits a third party). Punishment is more (less) effective when it is motivated by other-regarding (self-interested) concerns and only altruistic punishment increases the social stigma of self-interested behavior.

Willful Ignorance: a Meta-Analysis

Linh Vu | PhD Candidate, University of Amsterdam
13th January 2022

Decision making is prone to willful ignorance. While deliberate information avoidance is beneficial to the decision maker to maximize self-interest, this behavior can induce adverse consequences to others. What drives willful ignorance, and when are people most likely to engage in this behavior? We present the first meta-analysis on willful ignorance, analyzing 34,007 decisions made by 6,436 participants from 56 different treatments. We provide an overview of all methodologies used to investigate willful ignorance and identify the precise boundaries in which willful ignorance occurs. Results reveal a significant amount of subjects engaging in willful ignorance to obtain the selfish outcome. Further, our findings show willful ignorance depends on both situational factors, such as financial temptation for the decision maker and potential harm for the affected entity, and personal factors, such as the decision maker’s age and gender. We propose the ceiling effect as an explanation for the moderating effect of financial temptation, and we address societal implications for our understanding of who, why and when individuals engage in willful ignorance.

'Do the Right Thing' for Whom? An Experiment on Ingroup Favouritism, Group Assorting, and Moral Suasion

Tatiana Celadin | Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Bologna 
27th January 2022

In this paper we investigate the effect of moral suasion on ingroup favouritism. We report a well-powered, pre-registered, two-stage 2×2 mixed-design experiment. In the first stage, groups are formed on the basis of how participants answer a set of questions, concerning non-morally relevant issues in one treatment (assorting on non-moral preferences), and morally relevant issues in another treatment (assorting on moral preferences). In the second stage, participants choose how to split a given amount of money between participants of their own group and participants of the other group, first in the baseline setting and then in a setting where they are told to do what they believe to be morally right (moral suasion).

Our main results are: (i) in the baseline, participants tend to favour their own group to a greater extent when groups are assorted according to moral preferences, compared to when they are assorted according to non-moral preferences; (ii) the net effect of moral suasion is to decrease ingroup favouritism, but there is also a non-negligible proportion of participants for whom moral suasion increases ingroup favouritism; (iii) the effect of moral suasion is substantially stable across group assorting and four pre-registered individual characteristics (gender, political orientation, religiosity, pro-life vs pro-choice ethical convictions).

The Interplay of Social Identity and Norm Psychology in the Evolution of Human Groups

Kati Kish Bar-On | PhD Student, Tel Aviv University
10th February 2022

People’s attitudes towards social norms play a crucial role in understanding group behavior. Norm psychology accounts focus on processes of norm internalization that influence people’s norm following attitudes but pay considerably less attention to social identity and group identification processes. Social identity theory studies group identity but works with a relatively thin and instrumental notion of social norms. We argue that to best understand both sets of phenomena, it is important to integrate the insights of both approaches. Social status, social identity, and social norms are considered separate phenomena in evolutionary accounts. We discuss assumptions and views that support this separation, and suggest an integrated view of our own. We conclude that we should be open to the early origins of human social complexity, and conjecture that the longer the human social world involved multi-level societies the more probable it is that norm psychology and social identity interacted in rich ways.