Behavioral Ethics Lab

BeLab is part of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program and reflects its multidisciplinary spirit. We study moral behavior in all its complexity, so that our research crosses the boundaries of several disciplines. Our group includes psychologists, behavioral economists, game theorists, biologists, and moral and political philosophers. At BeLab we do laboratory experiments, but we also go to the field, and we theorize about what we find empirically, using analytical models as well as simulations.

Cristina Bicchieri, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, an expert on social norms and behavioral ethics, is the head of BeLab. Some areas of special interest at BeLab are social norms, moral heuristics and intuitions, biases, resource division, mutualism, corruption, measures of autonomy and their relation to social change.

Many working papers from the BeLab are available through the RePEc worldwide repository here:



Search results

Now showing 1 - 7 of 7
  • 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
    Rationality and Indeterminacy
    (2009-03-01) Bicchieri, Cristina
    Much of the history of game theory has been dominated by the problem of indeterminacy. The very search for better versions of rationality, as well as the long list of attempts to refine Nash equilibrium, can be seen as answers to the indeterminacy that has accompanied game theory through its history. More recently, the experimental approach to game theory has attempted a more radical solution: by directly generating a stream of behavioral observations, one hopes that behavioral hypotheses will be sharper, and predictions more accurate. This article looks at several attempts to address indeterminacy, including the shift to evolutionary models. However, because its goal is to establish whether rational choice models are inescapably doomed to produce indeterminate outcomes, it pays much more attention to the experimental turn in game theory, the difficulty it encounters, and the promising results obtained by more realistic models of rationality that include a social component.
  • Publication
    Cultural Norms: Transmitted Behaviors or Adaptive Responses?
    (2013-04-01) Baumard, Nicolas
    Economic game experiments have become a prominent method among social scientists developing and testing theories of cooperation. These games provide a valuable opportunity to generate measures of cooperation that can be compared from one place to the next, yet challenges remain in how to interpret cross-cultural differences in these experiments and connect them to cooperation in naturally occurring contexts. I address these challenges by examining framing effects in public goods games (PGGs) with salmon fishers and reindeer herders in Kamchatka, Russia. Combining standard versions of the game with versions that refer to post-Soviet institutions coordinating fishing and herding, I show that (1) average contributions in the PGG in Kamchatka are substantially higher than reported elsewhere and (2) framing the PGG alters the relationship between contributions and expectations, shifting strategies away from unconditional generosity and toward conditional cooperation. My analysis, by synthesizing quantitative analysis of PGG data with long-term qualitative ethnography, including extensive postgame interviews with participants, supports the notion that cooperation in economic games increases along with cultural norms, values, and institutions that emerge from economic interdependence. Framing effects suggest that researchers should devote more attention to investigating the relationship between contributions and expectations.
  • Publication
    Norms, Conventions, and the Power of Expectations
    (2014-11-06) Bicchieri, Cristina
  • Publication
    Third-Party Sanctioning and Compensation Behavior: Findings From the Ultimatum Game
    (2013-12-01) Chavez, Alex K; Bicchieri, Cristina
    We measured 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. Beliefs of whether unequal bargaining outcomes were fair differed based on the normative context, but actual punishment, compensation, and rewarding behavior did not. This paper makes a contribution to the literature on informal mechanisms of social norm enforcement by comparing negative sanctions, positive sanctions, and compensation behavior by third parties.
  • Publication
    Food Labeling and Eco-Friendly Consumption: Experimental Evidence From a Belgian Supermarket
    (2014-12-01) Vlaeminck, Pieter; Jiang, Ting; Vranken, Liesbet
    Using an incentive-compatible framed field experiment, we investigate whether consumers' food consumption is more eco-friendly when the information about a product's environmental impact is more easily accessible. Through an online survey, we identify a food label that is perceived to be the most easily accessible for assessing a product's eco-friendliness among six alternatives. These alternatives vary on multiple dimensions, including whether a standardized score of the overall environmental impact is added. This new food label is subsequently tested in an experimental food market embedded in a Belgian supermarket. We find that the presence of the new label that was preselected in the online survey leads to more eco-friendly food consumption relative to either the label currently used in the supermarket, or the label that contains the raw information of the environmental impact. In our experimental food market, the use of an easy-to-interpret but comprehensive environmental information label increases the overall eco-friendliness of our subjects' food consumption by about 5.3% relative to the default label used in current markets.
  • Publication
    Intuitive and Reflective Inferences
    (2009-04-01) Mercier, Hugo; Sperber, Dan
    Much evidence has accumulated in favor of such a dual view of reasoning (Evans, 2003, in press; for arguments against, see Osman, 2004). There is however some vagueness in the way the two systems are characterized. Instead of a principled distinction, we are presented with a bundle of contrasting features - slow/fast, automatic/controlled, explicit/implicit, associationist/rule based, modular/central - that, depending on the specific dual process theory, are attributed more or less exclusively to one of the two systems. As Evans states in a recent review, “it would then be helpful to have some clear basis for this distinction”; he also suggests that “we might be better off talking about type 1 and type 2 processes” rather than systems (Evans, in press). We share the intuitions that drove the development of dual system theories. Our goal here is to propose in the same spirit a principled distinction between two types of inferences: ‘intuitive inference’ and ‘reflective inference’ (or reasoning proper). We ground this distinction in a massively modular view of the human mind where metarepresentational modules play an important role in explaining the peculiarities of human psychological evolution. We defend the hypothesis that the main function of reflective inference is to produce and evaluate arguments occurring in interpersonal communication (rather than to help individual ratiocination). This function, we claim, helps explain important aspects of reasoning. We review some of the existing evidence and argue that it gives support to this approach.