Research Group “Mechanisms of Normative Change”

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C.VI  Research Group “Mechanisms of Normative Change”

Head: Dr Fabian Winter

The Max Planck Research Group “Mechanisms of Normative Change” was established in June 2015. The group’s research program is based on mechanism-based reasoning about social norms, a rigorous (game-) theoretical foundation of the research, and a causal empirical analysis of why social norms change. Our research agenda revolves around the idea that the most basic mechanism behind changing social norms is normative conflict. Norms may be widely shared for some time, but as new norms emerge and are initially shared by only a few, these competing norms may lead to conflict despite everyone’s intention to follow norms. Rauhut und Winter (2017a) and Winter et al. (2012) spell out this very idea and characterize a static equilibrium analysis of normative conflict.  Winter et al. (2016) extend their analysis to a dynamic setting and theoretically and experimentally study the emergence of social norms from ongoing normative conflict. The research of the group investigates this program in several different domains.

C.VI.1 Social Norms of Public Discourse

Social norms regulate most of our daily actions and habits. In particular, they also affect the way we speak in public. Here, norms of politeness and inclusion may conflict with norms of free (as in unregulated) speech and exclusion. Alvarez and Winter (2017a) experimentally study how hate speech can be reduced in Internet forums. They create a controlled online forum and ask people to discuss controversial matters. Their results show that moderate censoring of hateful content improves the general tone of the discussion, while peer sanctions do not have such an effect. Also, censoring previous hateful comments prevents the occurrence of extremely hostile comments.  In the same setting, Alvarez & Winter (2017b) show that actual terrorist attacks moderate the effectiveness of censoring and peer punishment, and render the former more effective. To understand these results better, Polat (2017) uses agent-based models to investigate the micro-macro link between social structure, underlying psychological constants, and opinion polarization.

C.VI.2 Norm Enforcement and Ethnic Diversity

Migration is considered one of the mechanisms behind normative change, the emergence and erosion of social norms. Winter and Zhang (2017a) investigate the relationship between ethnic diversity and the costly enforcement of social norms. While most existing research considers how co-ethnicity shapes costly punishment decisions in small-group interactions, this project breaks new ground by investigating the influence of ethnic diversity on costly punishment between strangers. They conducted a natural field experiment and show that Germans and visible ethnic minorities sanction norm violations at different rates, and that individuals condition their punishment decisions on the ethnic identity of the norm violator. Winter and Zhang (2017b) design a second field experiment to disentangle in-group/out-group explanations from status-based explanations in Switzerland.

C.VI.3 Social Norms and the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods

A further stream of research investigates the provision of public goods and the normative behavior and normative changes associated with it. Luckner (2017) formalizes Akerlof and Kranton’s 2000 Identity Theory and investigates how group manipulations and the public announcements of behavioral expectations influence the willingness to act for the common good. Alvarez et al. (2017) extend Luckner’s formalization to a game-theoretical model and show how Identity Theory can be used to model social norms as correlated equilibria in the spirit of Robert Aumann (1987) and Herbert Gintis (2009). However, the corresponding experimental results only partly confirm the theoretical predictions.

The willingness to contribute to a common good depends to a large extent on a good, inclusive institutional framing. Frackenpohl et al. (2016) show that small variations in the presentation of the cooperation problem can already have tremendous effects on the provision of the public good. Zhang and Lee (2017) investigate the relationship between the monitoring power of centralized authorities and the willingness of citizens to cooperate and contribute to public goods. They use "forensic" demographic techniques to uncover shortfalls in the state’s collection of census data, which they take as a proxy for poor centralized monitoring. They demonstrate that areas with better census collection are also able to collect higher taxes and provide more public goods. Zhang (2017) complements this result by an experiment showing that apparently “corrupt” cultures can be traced back to poor institutions, rather than a preference for corruption.

C.VI.4 Volunteering under Population Uncertainty

Winter and Franzen (2017) investigate the provision of sanctions in N-responder ultimatum games. They show that the willingness to reject unfair offers and thus enforce norms of fairness decreases with the number of other potential responders. This phenomenon is often referred to as a “diffusion of responsibility”. In a sense, this project could be seen as a stepping stone towards a theory of cooperation under population uncertainty. This general idea is largely extended in a DFG grant submitted by Winter (2017a); at the time of writing, it has been approved by the DFG’s review board (Fachkollegium). This idea is formally and experimentally implemented in Hillenbrand and Winter (2017). The equilibrium analysis shows that the diffusion of responsibility in the Volunteers Dilemma (see Diekmann 1984) is reduced under population uncertainty, i.e., if the exact number of potential volunteers is unknown. This theoretical result is also confirmed by the experimental data, though not due to the mechanism underlying the equilibrium analysis. Brookins et al. (2017) implement population uncertainty in the VOD via incomplete information about costs (see Weesie 1994). Preliminary theoretical analysis shows that the equilibrium solution has an intuitive and appealing interpretation, in which high-cost volunteers defect and low-cost volunteers cooperate. Hillenbrand (2017) further adds to the research on the diffusion of responsibility by showing how cooperation in the VOD with cost sharing depends on the institutional framing.

C.VI.5 Measuring Social Norms and Normative Conflict 

A fifth block of projects is dedicated to refining the measurement of social norms. This research is rooted in Rauhut & Winter (2009), who argue for the use of the strategy method to elicit normative principles. Crosetto et al. (2017) integrate the “Social Value Orientation Slider Measure” by Murphy et al. (2014) into zTree and oTree. This measure provides a fine-grained classification of behavioral norms in fairness situations. Böhm et al. (2017) apply this measure in a representative survey of the Austrian population and show that the distribution of fairness ideals is relatively even across different age groups, social status, or gender. One of the limitations of the SVO measure is its one-dimensionality: it only measures behavior. Rauhut et al. (2017) develop a new measure for social norms in surveys based on normative and behavioral expectations (see Bicchieri 2006), and implement this measure in a large-scale M-Turk study to test the robustness and explanatory power of the new measure. The measure will also implemented in the 2018 wave of the PASS study of the IAB in Nuremberg by Rauhut et al. (2017b).

As Winter (2014), Winter et al. (2012), and Winter et al. (2017) show, these norms may not be universally shared, and may not even be compatible with each other. In particular, fairness norms may, for instance, be egalitarian (everybody gets the same) or equitarian (the input/output ratio should be the same). These norms are often elicited using real-effort tasks to induce entitlements.  Winter (2017b) experimentally compares ten real-effort tasks and shows that the choice of the task can reverse the interpretation of the results of an experiment.  The computerized versions of the tasks are available in Winter (2017c).

C.VI.6 Social Norms in the Sociology of Science

Finally, the research group has a series of projects more at the intersection of social norms research and the sociology of science. Using Big-Data techniques on Web of Science data, Rauhut and Winter (2016a) show how norms of co-authorship ordering (alphabetical or merit-based) have changed in the German-speaking sociological community over the past decades. Rauhut and Winter (2017b) use the same data to characterize the German sociological-journal landscape. Rauhut and Winter (2016b) use a bibliographic approach and Big Data techniques to show how strategic referencing causally increases citations received in the future.


Publications and Research Projects from Members of the Group

Alvarez, A., Freund, L., Luckner, K. & Winter, F. (2017). Information Provision and Normative Change. In preparation

Alvarez, A. & Winter, F. (2017a). Normative Change and Culture of Hate: A Randomized Experiment in Online Communities. Revise & Resubmit European Sociological Review

Alvarez, A. & Winter, F.  (2017b). Spillover Effects in Hate Speech After Terrorist Attacks: A Natural Experiment. In preparation

Böhm, R., Fleiß, J., Rauhut, H., Rybnicek, R. & Winter, F. (2017). Representative Evidence on Social Value Orientation. Ongoing

Brookins, P., Hillenbrand, A. & Winter, F. (2017). Volunteering under Cost Uncertainty. Ongoing

Crosetto, P., Weisel, O. & Winter, F. (2017). A flexible zTree and oTree implementation of the Social Value Orientation Slider Measure by Murphy et al. (2014). Submitted

Frackenpohl, G., Hillenbrand, A. & Kube, S. (2016). Leadership effectiveness and institutional frames. Experimental Economics, 19(4), 842–863

Hillenbrand, A. (2017). The Curse of the Empty List. Submitted

Hillenbrand, A. & Winter, F. (2017). Volunteering under population uncertainty. Revise & Resubmit at Games and Economic Behavior

Lee, M. M. & Zhang, N. (2017). Legibility and the Informational Foundations of State Capacity. The Journal of Politics, 79(1), 118–132

Luckner, K. (2017). The Effects of Information Transmission Channels and Group Identity on Norm-Abiding Behavior. Master Thesis, Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Witten/Herdecke University

Polat, G. (2017). An Illustration of a Decision-Theoretic Variation of the Bounded-Confidence-Model by Hegselmann and Krause. Bachelor Thesis, Philosophy & Economics,  University of Bayreuth

Rauhut, H. & Winter, F. (2010). A sociological perspective on measuring social norms by means of strategy method experiments. Social Science Research, 39(6), 1181–1194

Rauhut, H. & Winter, F. (2016a). Der Markt der Aufmerksamkeit in der Soziologie: Trends im Publizieren, Zitieren und Netzwerken. Submitted

Rauhut, H. & Winter, F. (2016b). The increasing dominance of networking in the production of knowledge. Invited for resubmission at Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

Rauhut, H. & Winter, F. (2017a). Types of Normative Conflicts and the Effectiveness of Punishment. . In: Jann, B. & Przepjorka, W. (Ed.): Social dilemmas, institutions, and the evolution of cooperation, pp. 239–258. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter

Winter, F. & Rauhut, H. (2017b). Vernetzung und Positionierung der Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie (KZfSS) in der länder-, disziplinen-und sprachübergreifenden Diskussion. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie

Rauhut, H., Winter, F., Höglinger, M. & Fleiss, J. (2017a). Behavioral scales in surveys. Ongoing

Rauhut, H., Trapmann, M. & Winter, F. (2017b). Changing Social Norms and Unemployment. Ongoing

Winter, F. (2014). Fairness Norms Can Explain the Emergence of Specific Cooperation Norms in the Battle of the Prisoner's Dilemma. The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 38(4), 302–320

Winter, F. (2017a). Volunteering under Population Uncertainty. Grant Application submitted to the Deutsche Forschungs Gemeinschaft

Winter, F. (2017b). Real Effort Tasks in Economic Experiments: An Empirical Comparison of Tasks and their Behavioral Effects. In preparation

Winter, F (2017c). A Library of Real Effort Task. In preparation

Winter, F. & Franzen, A. (2017). Diffusion of Responsibility in Norm EnforcementEvidence from an n-Person Ultimatum Bargaining Experiment. In: Jann, B. & Przepjorka, W. (Ed.):  Social Dilemmas, Institutions, and the Evolution of Cooperation (pp. 303–326). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter

Winter, F., Miller, L. & Rauhut, H. (2016). Dynamic Bargaining and Normative Conflict. Revise & Resubmit Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics

Winter, F. & Rauhut, H. & Helbing, D. (2012). How Norms Can Generate Conflict: An Experiment on the Failure of Cooperative Micro-motives on the Macro-level. Social Forces 90(3), 919–946

Winter F. & Zhang N. (2017a). Social Norm Enforcement in Ethnically-Diverse Communities: Evidence from the Field. Submitted

Winter F. & Zhang N. (2017b). Status-Based or Ethnic Based Discrimination in Norm Enforcement? Disentangling two explanations in a Field Experiment in Switzerland. Ongoing

Zhang, N. (forthcoming). Institutions, Culture and Blowing the Whistle on Corruption: An Experiment with Northern and Southern Italians, Journal of Experimental Political Science

Zhang, N. (2015). Changing a ‘culture’ of corruption: Evidence from an economic experiment in Italy, Rationality and Society, 27(4), 387–413