New paper on peer effects and control-averse behavior

Rudorf, S., Baumgartner, T., Knoch, D.

The urge to rebel against external control affects social interactions in many domains of our society with potentially far-reaching consequences. Nevertheless, it has remained unclear to what degree this control-averse behavior might be influenced by the people in our surroundings, our peers. In an experimental paradigm with real restrictions of the subjects’ freedom of choice and no systematic incentives to follow the peer, we are able to demonstrate both negative and positive peer effects on control-averse behavior. First, we find that information about a peer’s strongly control-averse behavior, although irrelevant for the subjects’ outcome, increases the subjects’ individual control-averse behavior. Second, we find that information about a peer’s more generous and only weakly control-averse behavior increases subjects’ generous behavior, even though it is associated with greater costs for the subjects. Critically, each subject’s behavior determined the monetary payoff of both the subject and a third person, thereby constituting a social behavior with actual consequences. Interestingly, these peer effects are not moderated by self-assessments of the general resistance to peer influence or the general tendency to rebel against restrictions of one’s freedom of choice. Contributing new insights into a complex and highly relevant social phenomenon, our results indicate that information about a single peer’s behavior can influence individual control-averse behavior.

Link to article.