Michael N Stagnaro, Antonio A. Arechar, & David G. Rand
Social Science Research Network
What makes people willing to pay costs to help others, and to punish others’ selfishness? And why does the extent of such behaviors vary markedly across cultures? To shed light on these questions, we explore the role of formal institutions in shaping individuals’ prosociality and punishment. In Study 1 (N=707), we found that the quality of the institutions that participants were exposed to in daily life was positively associated with giving in a Dictator Game, but had little relationship with punishment in a Third-Party Punishment Game. In Study 2 (N=516), we investigated causality by experimentally manipulating institutional quality using a centralized punishment institution applied to a repeated Public Goods Game. Consistent with Study 1’s correlational results, we found that high institutional quality led to significantly more prosociality in a subsequent Dictator Game, but did not have a significant overall effect on subsequent punishment. Thus we present convergent evidence that the quality of institutions one is exposed to “spills over” to affect subsequent prosociality, but not punishment. These findings support a theory of social heuristics, suggest boundary conditions on spillover effects of cooperation, and demonstrate the power of effective institutions for instilling habits of virtue and creating cultures of cooperation.
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