2015 Cristina Bicchieri

Cristina Bicchieri, S. J. Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics. Cristina Bicchieri's website

2 – 5 June 2015.

  • Of norms, fads, fashions and conventions
  • How do norms change?
  • Compensation is better than punishment
  • I am so angry I will help you

1. Of norms, fads, fashions and conventions

I will distinguish between collective behaviors that are completely independent, as when they are purely determined by economic or natural reasons, or interdependent, as when other peopleÂ’s actions and opinions matter to oneÂ’s choice. These distinctions are important because in order to implement policies to encourage or discourage certain collective behaviors or practices, we need to understand their nature, or the reasons why people engage in them. Conventions, fads, fashions, and social norms are all interdependent behaviors, and social norms are the foremost example of interdependence. However, not all collective behaviors are interdependent, and not all interdependent behaviors are social norms. I provide simple tools that help to quickly decide whether the collective behavior we care about is a norm or more simply a shared custom, and if it is a norm, what sort of norm it is. Without this knowledge, promoting social change would be difficult, as we would be at a loss about where and how to intervene.

2. How do norms change?

I will focus on social norm change, both as emergence and abandonment. I highlight how change requires reasons and how these reasons may develop. Reasons may be personal, be they factual or normative, and they may be social (i.e. social expectations). Factual and normative reasons do not stand alone: they are part of a vast conceptual web of beliefs that I will try to describe. In so doing, I will discuss the psychological mechanisms that underlie norm change, especially the relationships among scripts, schemata, and social norms, and how change in one can lead to change in another. Since we are dealing with social norms, personal reasons may not induce behavioral change by themselves. Individuals also require a change in social expectations. I describe the relative importance of empirical and normative expectations in both norm creation and abandonment.

3. Compensation is better than punishment

Norms are often supported by informal negative sanctions. But what about compensating the victim of norm transgressions? I present experimental results in which we measure the beliefs and behavior of third parties who were given the opportunity to add to or deduct from the payoffs of individuals who engaged in an economic bargaining game under different social contexts. Third parties rewarded bargaining outcomes that were equal and compensated victims of unfair bargaining outcomes rather than punishing perpetrators, but were willing to punish when compensation was not an available option.

4. I am so angry I will help you

What motivates compensation? It depends on the situation. It can be argued that compensation is a form of helping, and helping behavior, in a variety of forms, has been widely researched, especially with regard to motivators. Previous work on helping behavior has focused on empathic concern as a primary driver. In sharp contrast, anger is often seen as an anti-social motivator resulting in aggression. However, other research has shown that moral outrage, anger evoked by the violation of a moral rule or a social norm, can lead to the punishment of a perpetrator, often described as altruistic or pro-social punishment. Some of the motivations for pro-social punishment, namely a concern for justice or the restoration of community values, can also be realized through victim compensation. I therefore propose the hypothesis that moral outrage leads to compensating behavior above and beyond what is predicted by empathic concern, but only when a social norm has been violated.

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