About NoBec Talks

The NoBeC (Norms and Behavioral Change) Talks showcase interdisciplinary early career and senior researchers working on norms and behavioral change around the world. We also aim to give PhD students and Post-Docs exposure by showing short pre-recorded 5 min videos about their research before each of our main talks.
John Beshears Profile

Nudging: Progress to Date and Future Directions

John Beshears | Harvard Business School, Harvard University (see profile here)
Thursday 24th June 2021 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 11:30 pm)

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.

Marie Claire Villeval

Information Acquisition and Social Norm Formation

Marie Claire Villeval | National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and GATE research institute, University of Lyon (see profile here)
Thursday 1st July 2021 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 11:30 pm)

We investigated 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=1944) online lying game, we varied across treatments whether individuals could access empirical or normative information from others, and the presence of group identity in terms of political affiliation.  We show that information search was motivated self-servingly, as a majority of individuals managed to consume more lenient information. This bias depended on whether own party was or not the source of lenient information. Selecting a more lenient source of normative information increased the willingness to lie, while empirical information influenced empirical beliefs but much less behavior. Normative beliefs were influenced neither by empirical or normative information. A follow-up experiment (N=2403) revealed that assigning the source of information exogenously weakened the influence of social information, with little effect of polarization.

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Do Disasters Affect Adherence to Social Norms?

Max Winkler | Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University (see profile here)
Thursday 15th July 2021 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 11:30 pm)

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.

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Three layers of the regulation of behaviour 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 (see profile here)
Thursday 5th August 2021 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 11:30 pm)
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Using social norms theory to investigate obstacles to achieving family planning goals

Ben Cislaghi | Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (see profile here)
Thursday 26th August 2021 (Philadelphia @ 1:00 PM | Los Angeles @ 10:00 AM | London @ 6:00 PM | Delhi @ 11:30 pm)

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.

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.