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Experimenting with Social Norms

Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Jean Ensminger
Joseph Henrich
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 492
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    Experimenting with Social Norms
    Book Description:

    Questions about the origins of human cooperation have long puzzled and divided scientists. Social norms that foster fair-minded behavior, altruism and collective action undergird the foundations of large-scale human societies, but we know little about how these norms develop or spread, or why the intensity and breadth of human cooperation varies among different populations. What is the connection between social norms that encourage fair dealing and economic growth? How are these social norms related to the emergence of centralized institutions? Informed by a pioneering set of cross-cultural data,Experimenting with Social Normsadvances our understanding of the evolution of human cooperation and the expansion of complex societies.

    Editors Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich present evidence from an exciting collaboration between anthropologists and economists. Using experimental economics games, researchers examined levels of fairness, cooperation, and norms for punishing those who violate expectations of equality across a diverse swath of societies, from hunter-gatherers in Tanzania to a small town in rural Missouri. These experiments tested individuals' willingness to conduct mutually beneficial transactions with strangers that reap rewards only at the expense of taking a risk on the cooperation of others. The results show a robust relationship between exposure to market economies and social norms that benefit the group over narrow economic self-interest. Levels of fairness and generosity are generally higher among individuals in communities with more integrated markets. Religion also plays a powerful role. Individuals practicing either Islam or Christianity exhibited a stronger sense of fairness, possibly because religions with high moralizing deities, equipped with ample powers to reward and punish, encourage greater prosociality. The size of the settlement also had an impact. People in larger communities were more willing to punish unfairness compared to those in smaller societies. Taken together, the volume supports the hypothesis that social norms evolved over thousands of years to allow strangers in more complex and large settlements to coexist, trade and prosper.

    Innovative and ambitious,Experimenting with Social Normssynthesizes an unprecedented analysis of social behavior from an immense range of human societies. The fifteen case studies analyzed in this volume, which include field experiments in Africa, South America, New Guinea, Siberia and the United States, are available for free download on the Foundation's

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-840-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Economics, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Part I Theory, Method, and Comparative Analysis

    • Chapter 1 Introduction, Project History, and Guide to the Volume
      (pp. 3-18)
      Jean Ensminger and Joseph Henrich

      This work represents the second volume emerging from a collaboration among about Swo dozen anthropologists and economists that began in 1997. Our goal in this volume is to shed light on the historical emergence of prosocial norms and their relationship to economic growth. By contrast with other primates, how is it that human societies manage to solve problems collectively and entice individuals to operate against their own narrow, short-term, economic self-interest and instead engage in behavior that benefits the group as a whole, or some significant subset? We argue that understanding the origins of such prosocial behavior, including the willingness...

    • Chapter 2 Theoretical Foundations: The Coevolution of Social Norms, Intrinsic Motivation, Markets, and the Institutions of Complex Societies
      (pp. 19-44)
      Joseph Henrich and Jean Ensminger

      Classical scholars long ago proposed a positive relationship between developed market economies and prosocial or fair-minded motivations in impersonal interactions (for an overview, see Hirschman 1982). One of the first and best-known scholars to write in this vein was none other than Adam Smith (1759/2000), whose position was consistent with the findings we present in this volume. Even before Smith, however, Montesquieu (1749/1900, 319) was explicit on this subject: “The spirit of trade produces in the mind of a man a certain sense of exact justice, opposite, on the one hand, to robbery, and on the other to those moral...

    • Chapter 3 Cross-Cultural Methods, Sites, and Variables
      (pp. 45-88)
      Jean Ensminger, Abigail Barr and Joseph Henrich

      When we began phase 2 of this project, we had the benefit of four years of experience working together in a large collaborative effort involving many diverse societies around the world. Much had been learned in phase 1 concerning what would be most theoretically interesting to investigate, what was feasible across sites, and what could go wrong. We were fortunate to be able to include the expertise of many of the original phase 1 field researchers (Abigail Barr, Jean Ensminger, Michael Gurven, Joseph Henrich, Natalie Henrich, Frank Marlowe, Richard McElreath, and David Tracer) and would add several new recruits to...

    • Chapter 4 Major Empirical Results: Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment
      (pp. 89-148)
      Joseph Henrich, Jean Ensminger, Abigail Barr and Richard McElreath

      Building on the theoretical framework laid out in chapter 2 and the background and methods described in chapter 3, this chapter presents our major empirical findings looking across our populations. In chapter 2, we proposed that a particular set of social norms has coevolved with the emergence of markets and the institutions of complex societies in order to facilitate exchange among individuals not involved in durable long-term relationships such as those associated with kinship, reciprocity, and status. Our experiments, with their salient contextual cues of cash and anonymity, are well suited to tap these particular norms. Thus, our framework predicts...

    • Chapter 5 Double-Blind Dictator Games in Africa and the United States: Differential Experimenter Effects
      (pp. 149-158)
      Carolyn K. Lesorogol and Jean Ensminger

      The experiments reported in this volume consider the dictator game (DG) as a measure of fairness and altruism and attempt to understand cross-cultural variations in these characteristics. Thus, it is important to consider whether results in the dictator game are compromised by design features of the game. In this chapter, we discuss the problem of reactivity in experiments—the idea that experimental subjects’ decisions may be affected by the experimental situation. In particular, we consider the possibility of “experimenter effects,” in which subjects’ decisions are influenced by their beliefs about the role or reaction of the experimenter. We use double-blind...

  6. Part II Society Case Studies

    • Chapter 6 Better to Receive Than to Give: Hadza Behavior in Three Experimental Economic Games
      (pp. 161-176)
      Frank W. Marlowe

      High levels of cooperation can be achieved via strong reciprocity in which individuals cooperate with cooperators, defect on defectors, and punish even those who defect on third parties (Fehr, Fischbacher, and Gächter 2002). Much human cooperation could have its origins in the extensive food-sharing that is typical of hunter-gatherers, and food-sharing could be based on strong reciprocity. If so, then we might expect that in games that measure norms of sharing, hunter-gatherers would cooperate by sharing stakes equally, would punish those who do not share with them equally, and would punish third parties who do not share the stakes equally...

    • Chapter 7 Cruel to Be Kind: Effects of Sanctions and Third-Party Enforcers on Generosity in Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 177-196)
      David P. Tracer, Ivo Mueller and Jennifer Morse

      Perhaps nowhere in the world is the norm of generosity more pronounced than in Melanesia. Whereas purchase, via either money or barter, tends to be the dominant mode of resource acquisition in much of the world, apart from self-generated production, the generosity norm manifested primarily through gift-giving operates to provide people in most Melanesian societies with many of their resource needs (Sillitoe 1998). In some cases, the generosity norm dictates obligatory exchanges necessitated by ceremonial occasions that are highly structured in form and value; in others, the exchanges are unsolicited and variable with respect to time, place, and value.¹ Regardless...

    • Chapter 8 The Tsimane’ Rarely Punish: An Experimental Investigation of Dictators, Ultimatums, and Punishment
      (pp. 197-224)
      Michael D. Gurven

      With a revised, standardized set of protocols, the Roots of Human Sociality Project examined whether prior “anomalies” not predicted by any of the available social preference models would reappear in the second round of games played in fifteen small-scale cultures. If they did, we could be more confident that the initial results were robust and not artifacts of an inconsistent methodology. Furthermore, the non-industrialized environmental settings characteristic of the fifteen cultures, with varying degrees of market integration, would allow for a serious treatment of the role of culture, the development, maintenance, and evolution of social norms, and the effects of...

    • Chapter 9 Fairness Without Punishment: Behavioral Experiments in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji
      (pp. 225-258)
      Joseph Henrich and Natalie Henrich

      This chapter reports results from three behavioral experiments done in the villages of Teci and Dalomo on Yasawa Island in Fiji. We performed the dictator game (DG), the strategy method ultimatum game (UG), and the third-party punishment game (TPG), as explained in chapter 3. For comparison to an established reference population, we also performed an identical set of experiments among U.S. undergraduates at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Five major results emerged from these behavioral experiments:

      1. Yasawans are substantially less willing to punish in both the UG and TPG than Emory students. Most Yasawans, for example, accepted offers of...

    • Chapter 10 Economic Game Behavior Among the Shuar
      (pp. 259-274)
      H. Clark Barrett and Kevin J. Haley

      Previous cross-cultural research on decisionmaking in economic games by Joseph Henrich and his colleagues (Henrich, Boyd, . . . McElreath 2004; Henrich, Boyd, . . . Henrich 2005) revealed both substantial variation across cultures and substantial deviation from the predictions of traditional economic models. Some of the most “selfish” behavior, as measured by offers in the ultimatum game, was observed in the smallest-scale societies, such as the Machiguenga, Quichua, and Hadza. These societies are characterized by both relatively small social groups and relatively low market integration. However, the same can be said of the Ache and the Achuar, who exhibited...

    • Chapter 11 Economic Experimental Game Results from the Sursurunga of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 275-308)
      Alexander H. Bolyanatz

      In July and August 2003, I conducted the dictator game (DG) and the strategy method ultimatum game (UG) experimental protocols, using cash, among Sursurunga speakers of New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. Two years later, I carried out the third-party punishment game (TPG) in the same area.¹ These games were completed using the protocols described in chapter 3.² This chapter begins with an overview of the Sursurunga before moving on to the results of these three games. A discussion follows in which I consider some of the implications of these results, including the ways in which Sursurunga psychological distress at...

    • Chapter 12 Maragoli and Gusii Farmers in Kenya: Strong Collective Action and High Prosocial Punishment
      (pp. 309-336)
      Edwins Laban Gwako

      In an effort to capture the middle of the market integration spectrum, we included two modern farming communities in Africa in our cross-cultural world sample: the ethnically related Maragoli and Gusii of Kenya. Like many farmers in Kenya and other more developed countries on the continent, the Maragoli and the Gusii are well educated and highly diversified in their household economic strategies. In one marked respect, however, they are very different.

      The Maragoli are considerably less well endowed economically than the Gusii by virtually all measures. The Maragoli and Gusii share a common ethnolinguistic ancestry, but there are stark differences...

    • Chapter 13 Sharing, Subsistence, and Social Norms in Northern Siberia
      (pp. 337-356)
      John P. Ziker

      The majority of families in Ust’-Avam in northern Siberia are dependent on subsistence hunting, fishing, and trapping and have been part of a vertically integrated industrial economy in a remote area of the former Soviet Union. Thus, the results from behavioral games conducted there in 2003—the dictator game (DG), the ultimatum game (UG), and the third-party punishment game (TPG)—lend themselves to comparison with other indigenous hunter-gatherers, as well as with working communities in other nation-states.

      My ethnographic research in the region beginning in 1992 helps to contextualize these results. The two indigenous ethnic minorities in the community (Dolgan...

    • Chapter 14 Gifts or Entitlements: The Influence of Property Rights and Institutions for Third-Party Sanctioning on Behavior in Three Experimental Economic Games
      (pp. 357-376)
      Carolyn K. Lesorogol

      Social norms and their enforcement play an important role in maintaining social order, particularly in small-scale societies where the reach of the central state is limited. Although norms are thus functional in this sense, it is less clear how and why individuals act to enforce norms, particularly when enforcement entails costs to the enforcer while the gains from enforcement extend to all members of the group. A number of scholars have posited the presence of a human trait (perhaps with a genetic component), termed “strong reciprocity” or “altruistic punishment,” to explain the presence of costly punishment (or cooperative) behavior (Fehr...

    • Chapter 15 Cooperation and Punishment in an Economically Diverse Community in Highland Tanzania
      (pp. 377-390)
      Richard McElreath

      Previous cross-cultural variation in economic experiments was unexplained by individual-level variables such as wealth, income, gender, and education, even though variation across societies was explained by market integration and potential returns to cooperation (Henrich et al. 2001; Henrich et al. 2004). However, the previous data contained relatively poor measures of individual income, wealth, and market integration. Additionally, most of the societies sampled contained relatively small amounts of variation in these measures. Thus, we do not know if the absence of within-group effects is due to causal unimportance or to insufficient variation. In this chapter, I analyze the game behavior of...

    • Chapter 16 Social Preferences Among the People of Sanquianga in Colombia
      (pp. 391-420)
      Juan-Camilo Cardenas

      The Afro-Colombian groups that have for many centuries occupied the Pacific Coast of Colombia have always been involved in one way or another with the social dilemma of extracting natural resources through mining and making use of the region’s forests, mangroves, and fisheries. Over the centuries, urban and rural settlements in this coastal region have been separated from the experience of state intervention and Western development more typical of the Andean regions of Latin America. The differences in basic social indicators within the country reflect the lack of formal institutions and actions to address social needs through the provision of...

    • Chapter 17 The Effects of Birthplace and Current Context on Other-Regarding Preferences in Accra
      (pp. 421-444)
      Abigail Barr

      One of the key findings from the first phase of the Roots of Human Sociality Project was that members of more market-integrated societies were more other-regarding, in the sense that they made higher offers in the ultimatum game. However, this finding was based on comparisons across experimental subjects drawn from a number of very small-scale societies in which livelihoods were either entirely or in large part based on hunting, gathering, and agricultural production for home consumption. This led to concerns that the monotonic relationship between individuals’ other-regarding preferences and the extent to which the society in which they lived was...

    • Chapter 18 Prosociality in Rural America: Evidence from Dictator, Ultimatum, Public Goods, and Trust Games
      (pp. 445-464)
      Jean Ensminger and Kathleen Cook

      In phase 1 of the Roots of Human Sociality Project, we had no fully market-oriented societies represented from the developed world, but we did have a U.S. student population (Henrich and Smith 2004). In an effort to broaden our market integration spectrum, we chose to include a town in rural Missouri as our representative population from the developed world. We also included another U.S. student population (chapter 9, this volume, available at: to create a baseline for comparison with both this study and studies of other university populations.

      The levels of prosociality demonstrated in the Missouri games were markedly...

  7. INDEX
    (pp. 465-472)