Projects

(Working papers, data, and materials might be available upon request. Please, feel free to contact me)

Alvarez-Benjumea, A., Winter, F. The Breakdown of Anti-Racist Norms: A Natural Experiment on Normative Uncertainty after Terrorist Attacks. (under review)

Abstract: Terrorist attacks can have profound consequences for the erosion of social norms, yet the causes of this erosion are not well understood. We argue that these attacks create substantial uncertainty about whether norms of civic conversation still hold. Observing breaches of these norms then leads people to express their own anti-immigrant attitudes more readily, as compared to a context where these norms are unambiguous. To test our theory, we examine (i) the impact of terrorist attacks on the level of hate speech against refugees in online discussions, and (ii) how the effect of terrorist attacks depends on the uncertainty about social norms of prejudice expression. To this end, we report on the results of a unique combination of a natural and a lab-in-the-field experiment. We exploit the occurrence of two consecutive Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany, the Würzburg and Ansbach attacks, in July 2016. Hateful comments towards refugees in an experimental online forum, but not towards other minority groups (i.e., gender rights), increased as a result of the attacks. The experiment compares the effect of the terrorist attacks in contexts where a descriptive norm against the use of hate speech is emphasized, i.e., participants observe only neutral or positive comments towards a minority group, to contexts in which the norm is ambiguous because participants observe anti-minority comments. Observing anti-immigrant comments had a considerable impact on our participants’ own comments after the attacks, while observing anti-gender-rights comments did not. We end by discussing implications of the findings for the literature on social norms, sociological methods and policy.


Alvarez-Benjumea, A., Freund, L., Luckner, K., Winter, F. Public Signals as Coordination Devices: The Moderating Effect of Group Identity.

Abstract: Experiments on social norm intervention suggest that public information, which creates common knowledge, is more effective in increasing norm conformity than privately disseminated information, regardless of other factors affecting norm conformity, such as group identity. We present a theoretical model and an experimental test of the effect of the channel of dissemination (public vs. private) of a normative message under different levels of group identity on norm compliance in a public goods game with heterogeneous groups of actors. In the theoretical model, we derive an actor’s pecuniary and identity utility, as well as the conditions under which they will coordinate on a correlated equilibrium. In the experiment, we play a public goods game in which we provide the participants with a normative message about the fairness norm. The conditions vary between low/high group identity, and public/private information. We test the coordination on the provided fairness norm in each setting. To increase the strength of the test, we introduce heterogeneous endowments. This increases the number of alternative fairness norms on which coordination is feasible. Our results suggest that group identity increases norm compliance, while the public dissemination of normative information has no, or even negative, effects on norm compliance depending on the type of actor in question.


Alvarez-Benjumea, A. Asymmetric Contagion of Anti-immigrant Views: The Role of Gender in the Effect of Normative Concerns.

Abstract: This paper examines how exposition to an increasing social acceptability of xenophobic views affects the willingness to support anti-immigrant policies, and shows how gender moderates this effect. To this end, we designed an online experiment in which participants were invited to an online forum to discuss immigration and refugees issues. We manipulate the social acceptability of xenophobic views by exposing participants to an increasing proportion of comments with anti-immigrant content. As a proxy for open support for anti-immigrant policies, we ask participants to donate to a well-known German party with a strong anti-immigration discourse: Alternative for Germany. Overall, increasing social acceptability of xenophobic content did not affect the willingness to donate. We find that women are particularly reluctant to donate after the anti-immigrant comments raised normative concerns. The results might shed light into the relationship between perception of egalitarian norms in the local context and support for anti-immigrant policies and parties.


Alvarez-Benjumea, A. Uncovering Hidden Opinions: The contagion of Anti-immigrant Views.

Abstract: Social norms against the expression of hate prevent people from publicly expressing hostility towards minorities or support bigoted attitudes. Yet variations of the strength of the anti-hate norm occur, both locally and temporarily. This experiment seeks to explain the short-term dynamics of normative change induced by the observed pattern of behavior. In the experiment, the number of norm violations increases over time, which allows for empirically testing the dynamics that underline normative change, and the resulting pattern of behavior. Participants were invited to take part in an online forum discussing immigration issues. We manipulate the social acceptability of expressing prejudice by continuously increasing the proportion of hate comments, i.e., violations of the anti-hate norm. We then recorded participants’ comments and classified the comments based on their social acceptability. We measure how the proportion of norm violations of the anti-hate norm influences participants’ comments change over time. The empirical results show that participants exposed to norm violations were more prone to express anti-immigrant views and use hateful language. Results thus confirm that compliance with the anti-hate norm depends on the social acceptability inferred from the context.