The Penn Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics has launched a new Working Paper Series to showcase pre-publication versions of academic articles, book chapters, or reviews by our Center members and affiliates. With this new series, we seek to provide open access to high-quality publications from various disciplines and from our team of affiliates around the globe, across multiple universities and research organizations.

Our Working Paper series will also provide our researchers and affiliates the opportunity to share preliminary research findings with the broader research community, encourage discussion, and facilitate feedback from researchers working on related topics. Most papers will be freely available through the SSRN website. To access our published papers, books and reports please visit our main Research page.

Our first Working Papers will be uploaded on the 10/14/2021 – just before our official online launch event.

Sample papers available from the 10/14/2021:

Perceived Inequality and Policy Preferences

Abraham Aldama, Cristina Bicchieri and Jana Freundt

We study the hypothesis that perceived income inequality affects people’s fairness views and their support for redistribution. In a comprehensive and well-powered survey experiment with a representative sample of US Americans, we (1) asses a causal link between the perceived income distribution and political views and (2) test the role of possible moderators. In particular, we investigate how own income, partisanship, trust in government, perceived equality of opportunity and perceived autonomy can predict how strongly a person’s perception of inequality impacts her political views. We measure participants’ political views as their fairness judgments and their support for redistribution by public and private means. Additionally, we obtain a behavioral measure for the willingness to (privately) redistribute, a donation to a charity. We find precisely estimated null effects. There is no evidence for a causal effect of perceived inequality on political views or behavior and this finding holds for all subgroups. In the light of increasing economic inequality since the 1960s in the US that has not been accompanied by increased taxation of the rich, the question how US Americans (mis-)perceive this inequality and to what extent this translates into a demand for more redistribution has become an important policy question. Our study suggests that informing people about the extent of inequality in a society will not effectively alter their support for redistributive policies.

Social Motives for Sharing Conspiracy Theories

Zhiying (Bella) Ren, Eugen Dimant, Maurice Schweitzer

Why do people share conspiracy theories? Recent work suggests that people share misinformation because they are inattentive. We find that people also knowingly share misinformation to advance social motives. Across three preregistered studies (total N=1,560 Prolific workers), we investigate the social motives for sharing conspiracy theories. We find that people are willing to trade off accuracy to build social connections when making content sharing decisions. Moreover, even though people know that factual news are more accurate than conspiracy theories, they expect sharing conspiracy theories to generate higher social value than sharing factual news. Lastly, in an interactive multi-round content-sharing paradigm, we find that social feedback could change the social value people attach to sharing misinformation. Our findings substantially develop our understand of why and when individuals are most likely to share conspiracy theories. These findings also make important contributions to understanding and curbing the spread of misinformation.

Toilet Use is a Descriptive Norm: The Influence of Social Expectations on Toilet Use in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India

Erik Thulin, Alex Shpenev, Sania Ashraf, Upasak Das, Jinyi Kuang, Cristina Bicchieri

Open defecation is a global public health issue. We applied Bicchieri’s Social Norms Framework to diagnose this behavior and determine what type of interventions could be effective in the Indian context. We conducted a mixed method study in rural, urbanizing, and slum areas of Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Using data from randomly selected individuals (n=5052) we assessed toilet use, empirical expectations (beliefs about what other people do), normative expectations (beliefs about what other people think one should do), and the dependence of toilet use behavior on those expectations. We found that empirical expectations were a strong driver of toilet use, while normative expectations had negligible predictive value. Only a minority of respondents believed there were any negative sanctions for defecating in the open. Taken together, these findings indicate that toilet use is a descriptive norm. We therefore conclude that nudges in the form of information about similar other’s improved practices might be an effective behavior change strategy to improve toilet use.

Implementation in “context”: Insights from a norm-centric behavior change sanitation intervention delivered during COVID-19 pandemic in peri-urban Tamil Nadu, India

Kavita Chauhan, Sania Ashraf, Upasak Das, Alex Shpenev, Cristina Bicchieri

Contextual factors include aspects present in the environment, at various levels such as socio-cultural, political and physical, which may influence of moderate the research process and outcomes. Contextual factors are reported in studies of community trials, however, there is no standard reporting framework or measurement indicators. An understanding and assessment of context helps in framing research. In early 2020, we launched a cluster randomised trial study of a norm-centric behavioural intervention in peri-urban Tamil Nadu which aimed to improve toilet ownership, use and maintenance among households living in communities with high toilet coverage (>65%). Before the initiation of our study, political developments created social unrest which disrupted the study. Soon after the commencement of the study, the entire country was under a COVID 19 lockdown which delayed the implementation process. To understand the impact of these factors on the intervention, we conducted rapid surveys, in-depth interviews with government officials and study participants, and focus group discussions with outreach workers to understand the impact of COVID 19 on implementation of and response to the intervention. We found that community outreach plan was modified which impacted its fidelity and respondent’s engagement. People’s risk perception related to sanitation and hygiene changed, which had an impact on reported toilet use. The psycho-social consequences, due to illness, loss of life, jobs and income, impacted people’s ability to improve or construct toilets. We conclude an assessment of contextual factors, and standardised measures will help to understand the effect of moderating factors on research process and outcomes.

Against the Wind: A Lab-in-the-field Experiment with Victims and Non-victims of Conflict in Colombia

Enrique Fatas, Lina Restrepo-Plaza

We present a lab-in-the-field experiment run with victims and non-victims of conflict in Colombia. Participants are either victims of conflict, ex-combatants or members of vulnerable groups, sharing socioeconomic characteristics with victims with the exception of conflict exposure. Participants are paired and they make unconditional contributions to a public good, and then conditional on the contribution of their counterpart using the strategy method. By comparing decisions across pairs we elicit outgroup discrimination (towards ex-combatants) and discrimination towards the ‘other ingroup’ (non-victims for victims, and victims for non-victims). By comparing unconditional and conditional decisions, we distinguish between beliefs- and preferences-based discrimination. We also elicit participants’ expectations (empirical and normative) in every interaction and study the role played by social norms. Both victims and non-victims discriminate ex-combatants significantly more than they discriminate each other, being their discrimination preferences-based. However, victims discriminate ex-combatants significantly less than non-victims. While victims do not discriminate non-victims, they are discriminated by nonvictims, and their behavior is consistent with different social norms: ingroup discrimination of victims is supported by discriminatory norms held by non-victims. However, victims and non-victims hold the same discriminatory expectations towards ex-combatants and only non-victims conform to the norm.

15. The Power of Narratives in Social Norm Interventions: A Study of the Civic Culture Initiatives of Antanas Mockus in Bogotá, Colombia

Paulius Yamin, Saadi Lahlou, Santiago Ortega, Andrés Sáenz

Interventions that seek to transform social norms and behaviors in ways that benefit collective life are becoming more and more popular among policy and development practitioners around the world. The potential of these interventions to create behavioral changes in their target population is often determined by the narratives that participants and other stakeholders create and share around them. In this paper, we focus on a now classic intervention (the mime-artist initiative by Antanas Mockus in Bogotá, Colombia) to illustrate how narratives are essential to analyze how different stakeholders understand and make sense of social norm interventions. To do this, we collected narratives from 117 citizens, 80 press articles spanning over 24 years, and some of the original designers of the intervention. Using automated textual analysis and manual coding of Narrative Policy Framework categories, we analysed the content and structure of their narratives. Our findings describe the main characteristics that structure the narratives of citizens and the press in this successful case, and which pertain to (i) the main themes, (ii) the main characters and their agency, and (iii) the audience and their agency. We discuss the research and practical implications of these characteristics, with a focus on how narratives support the impact that the intervention had by allowing stakeholders to make sense of it, and by promoting collective self-observation, reflexivity and collective action around it. By doing this, we argue that good behavioral interventions create stories, and we propose seven recommendations that, based on this experience, could inform the design of more effective interventions to achieve positive policy outcomes.