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Conditions for the Emergence of Shared Norms in Populations with Incompatible Preferences

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Abstract: Understanding norms is a key challenge in sociology. Nevertheless, there is a lack of dynamical models explaining how one of several possible behaviors is established as a norm and under what conditions. Analysing an agent-based model, we identify interesting parameter dependencies that imply when two behaviors will coexist or when a shared norm will emerge in a heterogeneous society, where different populations have incompatible preferences. Our model highlights the importance of randomness, spatial interactions, non-linear dynamics, and self-organization. It can also explain the emergence of unpopular norms that do not maximize the collective benefit. Furthermore, we compare behavior-based with preference-based punishment and find interesting results concerning hypocritical punishment. Strikingly, pressuring others to perform the same public behavior as oneself is more effective in promoting norms than pressuring others to meet one’s own private preference. Finally, we show that adaptive group pressure exerted by randomly occurring, local majorities may create norms under conditions where different behaviors would normally coexist.

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