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Observed Punishment Spillover Effects: A Laboratory Investigation of Behavior in a Social Dilemma

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Abstract: Punishment has been shown to be an effective reinforcement mechanism. Intentional or not, punishment will likely generate spillover effects that extend beyond one’s immediate decision environment, and these spillovers are not as well understood. We seek to understand these secondary spillover effects in a controlled lab setting using a standard social dilemma: the voluntary contributions mechanism. We find that spillovers occur when others observe punishment outside their own social dilemma. However, the specific effect of these spillovers depends on one’s personal punishment history which determines if the spillover is positive or negative.

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