131 - The waning and restoration of social norms: a formal model of the dynamics of norm compliance and norm violation

DNB Working Papers
Date 5 February 2007

Recent debates about crime on the one hand and the purported deterioration of values and norms on the other hand implicitly refer to two kinds of coordination mechanisms. Crime is supposed to be a consequence of deficient material incentives in the form of detection and formal sanctions. Values and norms are related to immaterial incentives, such as feelings of shame or loss of reputation, originatingfrom informal social supervision, and by feelings of guilt or repentance, originating from the personal conviction that one ought to behave otherwise. In order to investigate the relationship between rising crime and other breaches of norms on the one hand and the deterioration of both material and immaterial incentives on the other hand, a simple rational choice model is developed. This model proves to be a useful framework for analyzing behavior in a context in which different incentives for individual behavior, i.e. individual self-interest, formal sanctions, internalized social norms and social norms that are enforced by external sanctions, play a role simultaneously. It is shown that the waning and restoration of norms are asymmetric processes in which the restoration of eroded norms involves a much larger effort than was needed to maintain the norms in the original situation.