James Andreoni, Nikos Nikiforakis, Simon Siegenthaler, 30 April 2021

Some social norms – the informal rules governing which actions should be rewarded or sanctioned in a particular society – exist for so long that they seem permanent. And yet, historical data document significant instances of sudden social change, such as widespread support for gay rights. This column presents evidence from a large-scale lab experiment designed to predict the tipping point at which such change occurs. The model suggests that effective policy interventions can raise the likelihood of reaching the tipping threshold, thereby promoting a beneficial change in social norms.

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