Date of Original Version

12-3-2005

Type

Article

Abstract or Description

This paper reports the results of an experiment examining the effect of norms on altruistic behavior in a non-strategic economic environment. Work in psychology suggests that thinking about or viewing the behavior of others enhances norm compliant behavior. In three treatments, subjects make a simple binary allocation decision similar to a dictator decision context. In a control treatment subjects simply make the choice. The first experimental treatment examines the effect of focusing subjects on what others might do when faced with an identical decision. Such “focusing” produces a significant change in behavior in the direction of greater sharing even though subjects don’t think others are generous. The second treatment examines the pure “observational” effect of norms by presenting subjects with information regarding the actual choices of previous participants. We find that observing the behavior of others, whether others share or not, increases the frequency of sharing, and that observing more sharing also produces greater sharing. This experiment eliminates strategic influences present in previous experiments and demonstrates a direct effect of norms on behavior.

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