Bicchieri, Cristina

Email Address
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Faculty Member
My intellectual affinities lie at the border between philosophy, game theory and psychology. My primary research focus is on judgment and decision making with special interest in decisions about fairness, trust, and cooperation, and how expectations affect behavior. A second research focus examines the evolution of social norms, especially norms of fairness and cooperation. A third, earlier research focus has been the epistemic foundations of game theory and how changes in information affects rational choices and solutions. 1. In my most recent work, I have designed behavioral experiments aimed at testing several hypotheses based on the theory of social norms that I developed in my recent book, The Grammar of Society: the Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms (Cambridge University Press, 2006). The experimental results show that most subjects have a conditional preference for following pro-social norms. Manipulating their expectations causes major behavioral changes (i.e., from fair to unfair choices, from cooperation to defection, etc.). One of the conclusions we may draw is that there are no such things as stable character dispositions (to be fair, reciprocate, cooperate, and so on). Another is that policymakers who want to induce pro-social behavior have to work on changing people’s expectations about how other people behave in similar situations. These results have major consequences for our understanding of moral behavior and the construction of better normative theories, grounded on what people can in fact do. 2. The nature and dynamics of social norms studies how norms may emerge and become stable, why an established norm may suddenly be abandoned, how is it possible that inefficient or unpopular norms survive, and what motivates people to obey norms. In order to answer some of these questions, I have combined evolutionary and game-theoretic tools with models of decision making drawn from cognitive and social psychology. For example, I use my theory of context-dependent preferences to build more realistic evolutionary models of the emergence of pro-social norms of fairness and reciprocity. 3. My earlier (but never completely abandoned) research focus was the epistemic foundations of game theory. I recently wrote about belief-revision in games, and what kind of solutions our belief-revision model supports. In my past work I have analyzed the consequences of relaxing the 'common knowledge' assumption in several classes of games. My contributions include axiomatic models of players' theory of the game and the proof that -- in a large class of games -- a player's theory of the game is consistent only if the player's knowledge is limited. An important consequence of assuming bounded knowledge is that it allows for more intuitive solutions to familiar games such as the finitely repeated prisoner's dilemma or the chain-store paradox. I have also been interested in devising mechanical procedures (algorithms) that allow players to compute solutions for games of perfect and imperfect information. Devising such procedures is particularly important for Artificial Intelligence applications, since interacting software agents have to be programmed to play a variety of 'games'.
Research Interests

Search Results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 23
  • Publication
    Applying Social Norms Theory in CATS Programming
    (2017-12-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Noah, Thomas
  • Publication
    Phase 1 Project Report. Social Networks and Norms: Sanitation in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India
    (2017-12-31) Bicchieri, Cristina; Ashraf, Sania; Das, Upasak; Kohler, Hans-Peter; Kuang, Jinyi; McNally, Peter; Shpenev, Alexey; Thulin, Erik
  • Publication
    Is Participation Contagious? Evidence From a Household Vector Control Campaign in Urban Peru
    (2013-09-23) Buttenheim, Alison; Paz-Soldan, Valerie; Barbu, Corentin M; Skovira, Christine; Quintanilla Calderón, Javier E; Small, Dylan; Mollesaca Riveros, Lina Margot; Bicchieri, Cristina; Oswaldo Cornejo, Juan; Levy, Michael Z; Naquira, Cesar
    Objective: High rates of household participation are critical to the success of door-to-door vector control campaigns. We used the Health Belief Model to assess determinants of participation, including neighbour participation as a cue to action, in a Chagas disease vector control campaign in Peru. Methods: We evaluated clustering of participation among neighbours; estimated participation as a function of household infestation status, neighbourhood type and number of participating neighbours; and described the reported reasons for refusal to participate in a district of 2911 households. Results: We observed significant clustering of participation along city blocks (p<0.0001). Participation was significantly higher for households in new versus established neighbourhoods, for infested households, and for households with more participating neighbours. The effect of neighbour participation was greater in new neighbourhoods. Conclusions: Results support a ‘contagion’ model of participation, highlighting the possibility that one or two participating households can tip a block towards full participation. Future campaigns can leverage these findings by making participation more visible, by addressing stigma associated with spraying, and by employing group incentives to spray.
  • Publication
    Phase 2 Project Report. Social Networks and Norms: Sanitation in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India
    (2018-01-01) BICCHIERI, Cristina; Ashraf, Sania; Das, Upasak; Delea, Maryann; Kohler, Hans-Peter; Kuang, Jinyi; McNally, Peter; Shpenev, Alexey; Thulin, Erik
  • Publication
    Norm Manipulation, Norm Evasion: Experimental Evidence
    (2013-01-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Chavez, Alex K
    Using an economic bargaining game, we tested for the existence of two phenomena related to social norms, namely norm manipulation – the selection of an interpretation of the norm that best suits an individual – and norm evasion – the deliberate, private violation of a social norm. We found that the manipulation of a norm of fairness was characterized by a self-serving bias in beliefs about what constituted normatively acceptable behaviour, so that an individual who made an uneven bargaining offer not only genuinely believed it was fair, but also believed that recipients found it fair, even though recipients of the offer considered it to be unfair. In contrast, norm evasion operated as a highly explicit process. When they could do so without the recipient's knowledge, individuals made uneven offers despite knowing that their behaviour was unfair.
  • Publication
    Diagnosing Norms
    (2016-01-01) Bicchieri, Cristina
    This short book explores how social norms work, and how changing them--changing preferences, beliefs, and especially social expectations--can potentially improve lives all around the world.
  • Publication
    Sector Sustainability Check: Rural Open Defecation Free (ODF) & Rural (Drinking) Water Supply Schemes (RWSS) Punjab & Sindh Provinces
    (2016-12-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Thulin, Erik; Marini, Annalisa; Haider, Nadeem; Gill, Asmat; Usmani, Aziz; Shahzad, Faisal; Dastageer, Ghulam; Kamal, Reema; Badr-un-Nisa,; Gillani, Noor; Jalal, Sher; Abbas, Faisal; Khan, Sher; Khan, Saud; Khanzada, Noman
    This study focused on the behavioral sustainability of latrine use and continued functionality of rural water supply systems in ODF certified villages in the Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. Our chief role was to develop, integrate and analyze social norms measures as part of the larger sustainability check. This report presents those methods, measures and findings. PennSONG served as an associate partner in the report, working with lead partner AAN Associates ( and associate partner Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering ( The study was substantially supported by the Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC), the Government of Pakistan, and UNICEF Pakistan.
  • Publication
    A Structured Approach to a Diagnostic of Collective Practices
    (2014-12-05) Bicchieri, Cristina; Lindemans, Jan W; Jiang, Ting
    “How social norms change” is not only a theoretical question but also an empirical one. Many organizations have implemented programs to abandon harmful social norms. These programs are standardly monitored and evaluated with a set of empirical tools. While monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of changes in objective outcomes and behaviors is well developed, we will argue that M&E of changes in the wide range of beliefs and preferences important to social norms is still problematic. In this paper, we first present a theoretical framework and then show how it should guide social norms measurement. As a case study, we focus on the harmful practice of child marriage. We show how an operational theory of social norms can guide the design of surveys, experiments, and vignettes. We use examples from existing research to illustrate how to study social norms change.
  • Publication
    Shrieking Sirens - Schemata, Scripts, and Social Norms: How Change Occurs
    (2015-07-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; McNally, Peter
    This paper investigates the causal relationships among scripts, schemata, and social norms. The authors examine how social norms are triggered by particular schemata and are grounded in scripts. Just as schemata are embedded in a network, so too are social norms, and they can be primed through spreading activation. Moreover, the expectations that allow a social norm‘s existence are inherently grounded in particular scripts and schemata. Using interventions that have targeted gender norms, open defecation, female genital cutting, and other collective issues as examples, the authors argue that ignoring the cognitive underpinnings of a social norm doom interventions to failure.
  • Publication
    Do the Right Thing: But Only If Others Do So
    (2009-04-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Xiao, Erte
    Social norms play an important role in individual decision making. We argue that two different expectations influence our choice to obey a norm: what we expect others to do (empirical expectations) and what we believe others think we ought to do (normative expectations). Little is known about the relative importance of these two types of expectation in individuals' decisions, an issue that is particularly important when normative and empirical expectations are in conflict (e.g., systemic corruption, high crime cities). In this paper, we report data from Dictator game experiments where we exogenously manipulate dictators' expectations in the direction of either selfishness or fairness. When normative and empirical expectations are in conflict, we find that empirical expectations about other dictators' choices significantly predict a dictator's own choice. However, dictators' expectations regarding what other dictators think ought to be done do not have a significant impact on their decisions after controlling for empirical expectations. Our findings about the crucial influence of empirical expectations are important for designing institutions or policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behavior.