Instruction length and content: Effects on punishment behaviour in public goods games

Date: 2015-12-07
By: Abhijit Ramalingam (University of East Anglia)
Antonio J. Morales (Universidad de Malaga)
James M. Walker (Indiana University)
Instruction length and content have been shown to affect comprehension levels and decision times of experimental subjects in public goods games. However, to date, there is no evidence of a significant impact on behaviour. We investigate the effects of instruction length and content on comprehension and behaviour in a more complicated setting - a public goods game with punishment. We find that longer instructions, that include examples that highlight the positive externality associated with public goods contributions, increase the comprehension levels of subjects, significantly lowering the time taken to answer the pre-experiment quiz and make decisions. Importantly, the differences in instructions are also associated with significant differences in behaviour. On average, groups that receive shorter instructions fail to use punishment effectively to raise contribution levels while those that receive longer instructions sustain higher contribution levels over time. In the former case, groups target low contributors less frequently than appears necessary to induce greater cooperation.
Keywords: public goods, punishment, instruction length, decision times, contributions, punishment
JEL: C72 C91 C92 H41