Objective and Subjective Compliance: A Norm-Based Explanation of 'Moral Wiggle Room'.

(With Arne Weiss). Games & Economic Behavior 96, 170-183, 2016. Preprint PDF.

We propose a cognitive-dissonance model of norm compliance to identify conditions for selfishly biased information acquisition. The model distinguishes between: (i) objective norm compliers, for whom the right action is a function of the state of the world; (ii) subjective norm compliers, for whom it is a function of their belief. The former seek as much information as possible; the latter acquire only information that lowers, in expected terms, normative demands. The source of ‘moral wiggle room’ is not belief manipulation, but the coarseness of normative prescriptions under conditions of uncertainty. In a novel experimental setup, we find evidence for such strategic information uptake. Our results suggest that attempts to change behavior by subjecting individuals to norms can lead to biased information acquisition instead of compliance.