GIGA Seminar in Socio-Economics

The Creation of Social Norms under Weak Institutions



  • Overcoming the tragedy of the commons remains a key challenge for the sustainable 10 management of natural resources. Where state institutions are weak, resource users have to rely on voluntary cooperation. Policies that aim to facilitate cooperation in such settings often turn to social norms as solutions. We use a lab-in-the-field experiment with fishermen at Lake Victoria, Tanzania (N=588), to test whether the provision of varying social information leads to different social norms of cooperation. We track both behavior and beliefs during a repeated three-person prisoner's dilemma game and explore the role of feedback and the reference network. We find that the initial provision of social information that emphasizes cooperation only succeeds in creating a norm of high cooperation when participants have the opportunity to give feedback on the behavior of others. Without feedback, initial social 20 information does not translate into diferences in behavior or beliefs. Irrespective of whether cooperation or defection is emphasized, cooperation rates decline over the course of the experiment. In the feedback treatment where social information emphasizes defection, cooperation and beliefs about cooperation start low and stay low. Interestingly, we find that participants who have a strong affiliation with respect to fishing related characteristics are more likely to act in accordance with the initially provided social information.


    Florian Diekert, Assistant Professor of Economics from Heidelberg University


    GIGA Hamburg




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