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Reciprocity or community: Different cultural pathways to cooperation and welfare

Anna Gunnthorsdottir and Palmar Thorsteinsson

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Abstract: In a laboratory experiment we compare voluntary cooperation in Iceland and the US. We furthermore compare the associated thought processes across cultures. The two countries have similar economic performance, but survey measures show that they differ culturally. Our hypotheses are based on two such measures, The Inglehart cultural world map and the Knack and Keefers scale of civic attitudes toward large-scale societal functioning. We prime the participants with different social foci, emphasizing in one a narrow grouping and in the other a larger social unit. In each country we implement this using two different feedback treatments. Under group feedback, participants only know the contributions by the four members of their directly cooperating group. Under session feedback they are informed of the contributions within their group as well as by everyone else in the session. Under group feedback, cooperation levels do not differ between the two cultures. However, under session feedback cooperation levels increase in Iceland and decline in the US. Even when contribution levels are the same members of the two cultures differ in their motives to cooperate: Icelanders tend to cooperate unconditionally and US subjects conditionally. Our findings indicate that different cultures can achieve similar economic and societal performance through different cultural norms and suggest that cooperation should be encouraged through culturally tailored suasion tactics. We also find that some decision factors such as Inequity Aversion do not differ across the two countries, which raises the question whether they are human universals.

Date: 2021-10
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cbe, nep-evo, nep-exp and nep-soc
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Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:2110.12085