Stephan Meier

The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation and Norm Enforcement: Evidence Using Random Assignment to Real Social Groups

Coauthor(s): Lorenz Goette, David Huffman.

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Abstract:

Because it is difficult to fully control behavior with incentives and contracts, the success of organizations depends on members' willingness to take unselfish, efficiency-enhancing actions, or on what George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton (2005) call "motivational capital" (if, for example, workers may put in extra effort even if it is not rewarded, and sanction selfish behavior by others even when it is costly to do so, this may fill the breach left by regular incentive schemes). Another important feature of organizations is that they constitute a group or social network determining with whom an individual interacts.

Through a study of a four-week phase of officer training in the Swiss Army, this paper investigates whether this second aspect of organizations has an important benefit, fostering nonselfish cooperation and punishment of norm violation within the group. Although the traditional unit of analysis for studying organizations in economics has been the individual, our hypothesis is in line with an alternative view, which holds that membership in a social group transforms individuals, leading to internalized roles, norms, and values that affect behavior. This view has been advanced in social identity theory, in work on the economics of identity, and in the literature on social capital. We also test a related, long-standing conjecture in sociology and social psychology—that group assignment may have a dark side, leading to hostility toward outsiders in the form of vindictive punishment.

Source: American Economic Review
Exact Citation:
Goette, Lorenz, David Huffman, and Stephan Meier. "The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation and Norm Enforcement: Evidence Using Random Assignment to Real Social Groups." American Economic Review 96, no. 2 (May 2006): 212-216.
Volume: 96
Number: 2
Pages: 212-216
Date: 5 2006