Theme C: Social Norms


In this part of the project, we study how social norms interact with the natural environment to foster cooperation that overcomes common-pool dilemmas.



Project 1: Conforming with Norms of Cooperation


Authors: Florian Diekert, Tillmann Eymess, Israel Waichman


Abstract: Overcoming the tragedy of the commons remains a key challenge for the sustainable management of natural resources. Particularly in settings where state capacity is weak, resource users have to rely on voluntary cooperation. In these situations, policy interventions often aim at changing behavior by affecting social norms. We shed light on how norms of cooperation can be affected by conducting a lab-in-the-field experiment with resource users that participate in the open-access fisheries of Lake Victoria (N=588). We use a social information manipulation that either emphasizes cooperation or defection in a three person prisoner's dilemma game. We cross this treatment variation in a 2x2 factorial design with the opportunity to weakly sanction behavior of others. We find that without sanctioning, the social information manipulation does not translate into differences in behavior. Irrespective of whether cooperation or defection was emphasized, cooperation rates decline over the course of the experiment. With sanctioning, however, the social information manipulation leads to strongly significant differences in behavior. When defection is emphasized, cooperation rates start low and stay low. In contrast, when cooperation is emphasized, cooperation rates start high and stay high. Using the data on elicited normative beliefs and empirical expectations, we argue that this pattern of behavior is linked to the emergence of different norms of cooperation. The sanctioning mechanism creates resonance, which leads to a pattern of self-fulfilling prophecies where participants conform with the initial manipulation of empirical expectations. Our study thus highlights the importance of local feedback mechanisms when policy makers aim to leverage social norms to support cooperative behavior.


Status: First draft of manuscript available on request: Write to



Project 2: Dissecting Norms of Cooperation


Authors: Tillmann Eymess, Florian Diekert


Abstract: Combining social information and coordinated sanctioning is a powerful tool in promoting cooperative solutions to the collective action problem of public good provision. Social sanctions are found to be more effective when implemented in settings with strong social norms and vice versa. The channels through which the combination of these two policy instruments promote pro-social behavior are however poorly understood. This paper brings the underlying behavioral mechanism between social information and cooperation into focus and examines whether it is dependent on a sanctioning opportunity. Data was collected in a one-shot prisoner's dilemma field-experiment with belief elicitation by utilizing a 2 x 2 design which crosses the provision of social information (high or low) with a sanctioning treatment (N=580). In order to disentangle the effects of social information on cooperation through subjects' perceived social norms, we conduct a conditional process analysis that allows us to dissect the proposed model into causal and conditional processes. Identified relationships may broaden the understanding of solutions to the social dilemma of common pool resources. Results suggest that the provision of social information serves a dual purpose. The analysis reveals a positive relationship between social information and cooperation that is mediated by higher empirical expectation. Those who receive information about cooperative behavior of others, expect them to cooperate and subsequently cooperate themselves. In addition, we find a positive direct effect of social information on cooperation that is moderated by the sanctioning possibility. When holding subjects' beliefs fixed, manipulating expectations in the direction of cooperative behavior leads to more cooperation only when subjects are able to weakly sanction others' choices. Results imply that sanctioning is key for successfully changing behavior when affecting social norms.


Status: First draft of manuscript available on request: Write to



Project 3: Overcapitalization and social norms of cooperation in a small-scale fishery


Authors: Robbert Schaap, Andries Richter


Abstract: The increasing technological efficiency of harvesting equipment has been identified as one of the main causes of overcapacity and overexploitation of natural resources. In this paper, a formal model is developed which studies the effects of technological efficiency as an endogenous variable within a bioeconomic system. We model capital investments in a fishery, where investment decisions are made less frequently than the allocation of variable inputs. We study how the possibility to invest in capital affects open access dynamics, and also the evolution of cooperative harvesting norms. We find that the possibility to make large capital investments can destabilize cooperation, especially if enforcement capacity is low. Further, we find that communities can preserve cooperation by agreeing on a resource level that is lower than socially-optimal. This reduces the incentive to deviate from the cooperative strategy and invest in capital.


Status: Revised and-resubmitted; manuscript available on request: Write to



Project 4: Social punishment project


Authors: Florian Diekert, Peter Martinsson, Lisa Spantig


Abstract: We investigate whether the exclusion from an unrelated, social, task improves cooperation in a public good game and how this punishment institution compares to other institutions (monetary punishment and non-monetary rebuke). In addition, we ask whether there are spillovers from the social task to public good contributions even without any punishment institutions.


Status: In progress, data collection scheduled for April and May 2019

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Letzte Änderung: 01.03.2019
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