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Habits of Virtue: Creating Norms of Cooperation and Defection in the Laboratory

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Document pages: 70 pages

Abstract: What explains variability in norms of cooperation across organizations and cultures? One answer comes from the internalization of norms prescribing behavior that is typically successful under the institutions that govern one’s daily life. These norms are then carried over into atypical situations beyond the reach of institutions. Here we experimentally demonstrate such spillovers. First, we immerse subjects in environments that do or do not support cooperation using repeated Prisoner’s Dilemmas. Afterwards, we measure their intrinsic prosociality in one-shot games. Subjects from environments that support cooperation are more prosocial, more likely to punish selfishness, and more generally trusting. Furthermore, these effects are most pronounced among subjects who use heuristics, suggesting that intuitive processes play a key role in the spillovers we observe. Our findings help to explain variation in one-shot anonymous cooperation, linking this intrinsically motivated prosociality to the externally imposed institutional rules experienced in other settings.

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