Self-regulatory Resources and Institutional Formation: A first experimental test

Author Name KAMEI Kenju (Research Associate, RIETI)
Creation Date/NO. August 2022 22-E-084
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This study conducts a novel laboratory experiment that shows, for the first time, that the state of people’s self-regulatory resources influences their reliance on the formal enforcement of norms in a social dilemma. The experimental subjects’ self-regulatory resources are rigorously manipulated using well-known depletion tasks. On the one hand, when their resources are not depleted, most decide to govern themselves through monitoring and decentralized, peer-to-peer punishment in a public goods dilemma, and then successfully achieve high cooperation norms. On the other hand, when the amount of their resources is limited, the majority vote to enact a costly formal sanctioning institution and then construct deterrent punishment toward free riders; backed by formal punishment, groups achieve strong cooperation. A supplementary survey on the Covid-19 pandemic was conducted to enhance the external validity of the findings, generating a similar pattern. Self-control and commitment preference theories, combined with inequity aversion, can explain these patterns, because they predict that those with limited self-regulatory resources are motivated to remove temptations in advance as a commitment device, thus avoiding a large self-control cost. This underscores the role of commitment in the context of a social dilemma.