Stephan Meier

Trust and Parochialism in a Culture of Crime

Coauthor(s): Lamar Pierce, Antonino Vaccaro.


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Some countries and regions seem to be trapped in a situation with low trust, high parochialism (i.e., the tendency to favor in-group members) and low economic development. In this paper, we investigate whether a strong but globally very important informal institution, organized crime, can explain such differences in trust and parochialism levels. Our results come from experiments with adolescents in high schools in two neighborhoods of Palermo, Italy, that share nearly identical demographics and formal institutions but have substantially different levels of organized crime. Using trust and prisoner's dilemma games, we found that neighborhoods with high Mafia involvement exhibit lower generalized trust and trustworthiness, but higher parochialism, and that punishment norms fail to resolve these deficits. Our study experimentally demonstrates that informal institutions from the past can undermine institutions from the present, even in religiously and ethnically homogeneous populations. A culture of organized crime can affect norms and attitudes in adolescents that might create a vicious cycle where organized crime affects norms and vice versa.

Exact Citation:
Meier, Stephan, Lamar Pierce, and Antonino Vaccaro. "Trust and Parochialism in a Culture of Crime." Columbia Business School, 2013.
Date: 2013