To investigate how group-contingent non-pecuniary preferences are affected when one group occupies a position of higher status than another group, experimental participants were divided into two trivially distinct groups and then one of the groups was randomly assigned “high status.” Control sessions were also conducted in which no status distinction was introduced. In all sessions, participants subsequently played two games governed by distinct social norms: a trust game and a cheap talk game where lying was possible. In the control sessions, norm compliance was higher in same-group interactions, consistent with previous research demonstrating that normative obligations are often parochial. In treatment sessions, parochialism vanished and was replaced by noblesse oblige: members of high status groups exhibited more norm compliance in all of their interactions. Finally, in game roles not governed by an unambiguous social norm, identity had no direct impact on behavior. Considered together, the results suggest that the channel through which social identity directly impacts behavior is norm compliance and that the nature of this impact depends crucially on the relationship between involved groups.
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