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Everybody's doing it: On the Emergence and Persistence of Bad Social Norms

David Smerdon, Theo Offerman and Uri Gneezy
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David Smerdon: University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Theo Offerman: University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

No 16-023/I, Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers from Tinbergen Institute

Abstract: Social norms permeate society across a wide range of issues and are important to understanding how societies function. In this paper we concentrate on 'bad' social norms - those that are inefficient or even damaging to a group. This paper explains how bad social norms evolve and persist; our theory proposes a testable model of bad norms based on anecdotal evidence from real-world examples. We then experimentally test the model and find empirical support to its main predictions. Central to the model is the role of a person's social identity in encouraging compliance to a norm. The strength of this identity is found to have a positive effect on bad norm persistence. Additionally, while the size of the social group does not have a long run effect, smaller groups are more likely to break a bad norm in the short term. Furthermore, the results suggest that both anonymous communication and increasing information about others' payoffs are promising intervention policies to counter bad norms.

Keywords: Social norms; Experiment; Identity; Behavioral Economics (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D03 Z13 C92 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cdm, nep-evo, nep-exp, nep-pke and nep-soc
Date: 2016-04-05
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