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Brent Simpson (University of South Carolina)

28 April 2016 @ 15:30


  • Past event


28 April 2016
Event Category:

“Moral Judgments, Material Sanctions, and Collective Action”

at Campus Luigi Einaudi (Room 3D233)


In group settings individuals can often benefit more by free-riding, letting others make costly contributions to collective efforts. The threat of free-riding makes the marshalling of cooperation from group members a fundamental challenge of social life. Drawing on classical sociological theory, we propose that moral judgments are critical tools by which group members deter free-riding. Prior research on peer sanctioning, however, has overwhelmingly focused on material rewards and punishments. While material sanctions are effective in increasing contributions, they are costly and only promote cooperation while present. We depart from the literature’s focus on material sanctions by investigating the effects of allowing participants in public goods experiments to make public moral judgments of one another’s group contributions. Results show that participants readily used public moral judgments in response to the contribution decisions of other group members, more frequently deploying positive than negative judgments. Groups whose members could make moral judgments achieved greater cooperation and reported greater solidarity than groups with no capacity to sanction, levels of cooperation that were comparable to those of groups featuring costly material sanctions. In addition, following the public goods experiment, members of moral judgment groups showed more interpersonal trust, trustworthiness, and generosity than groups in all other conditions, including those who could use material sanctions. These findings shed light on how the clarification and enforcement of moral boundaries by group members can lead groups to be productive and harmonious, offering an efficient solution to the problem of cooperation rooted in the maintenance of moral order.