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Seinen, I. and Schram, A. (2006). Social status and group norms: Indirect reciprocity in a repeated helping experiment. European Economic Review, 50(3):581-602.


  • Journal
    European Economic Review

In the economic literature, reciprocity is typically studied in situations of repeated interaction between two individuals. It refers to one individual rewarding kind acts of the other or punishing hostile acts. In contrast, this paper studies indirect reciprocity, where a cooperative action is rewarded by a third actor, not involved in the original exchange. We provide experimental evidence on indirect reciprocity. The experiment is based on the 'repeated helping game' developed by Nowak and Sigmund (J. Theoret. Biol. 194 (1998) 561; Nature 393 (1998) 573), involving random pairing in large groups. Pairs consist of a donor and a recipient. Donors decide whether or not to provide costly 'help' to the recipients they are matched with, based on information about the recipient's behavior in encounters with third parties. We observe clear evidence of indirect reciprocity. Many decision-makers respond to the information about previous decisions (whether or not to help others) of the recipients. In our experiments, this indirect reciprocity is largely based on norms about how often the recipient should have helped others in the past. We show that these norms develop similarly within groups of interacting subjects, but distinctly across groups. This leads to the emergence of group norms.