Autonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 1117–1147 | Cite as

Simulating protection rackets: a case study of the Sicilian Mafia

  • Luis G. NardinEmail author
  • Giulia Andrighetto
  • Rosaria Conte
  • Áron Székely
  • David Anzola
  • Corinna Elsenbroich
  • Ulf Lotzmann
  • Martin Neumann
  • Valentina Punzo
  • Klaus G. Troitzsch


Protection racketeering groups are powerful, deeply entrenched in multiple societies across the globe, and they harm the societies and economies in which they operate in multiple ways. These reasons make their dynamics important to understand and an objective of both scientific and application-oriented interest. Legal and social norm-based approaches arguably play significant roles in influencing protection racket dynamics. We propose an agent-based simulation model, the Palermo Scenario, to enrich our understanding of these influences and to test the effect of different policies on protection racket dynamics. Our model integrates the legal and the social norm-based approaches and uses a complex normative agent architecture that enables the analysis of both agents’ behaviours and mental normative representations driving behaviour. We demonstrate the usefulness of the model and the benefits of using this complex normative architecture through a case study of the Sicilian Mafia.


Protection rackets Norms Normative agent architecture Sicilian Mafia 



This work was partially supported by the FP7-ICT Science of Global Systems programme of the European Commission through Project GLODERS (, Global Dynamics of Extortion Racket Systems) under Grant agreement no.: 315874. This work reflects the views solely of its authors. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information in the work. We also acknowledge the invaluable comments and suggestions of the anonymous reviewers that helped improving the paper in several aspects.


  1. 1.
    Aldewereld, H., Dignum, V., & Picard, G. (Eds). (2009). Engineering societies in the agents World X: 10th international workshop, ESAW 2009, Utrecht, The Netherlands, November 18–20, 2009, Proceedings (Vol. 5881). Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Alfonso, G. (2011). Il maxiprocesso venticinque anni dopo. Memoriale del presidente. Rome: Bonanno.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Amadore, N. (2007). La zona grigia. I professionisti al servizio della mafia. Palermo: La Zisa.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Amadore, N., & Uccello, S. (2009). L’isola civile. Le aziende Siciliane contro la mafia. Turin: Einaudi.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Andrighetto, G., Brandts, J., Conte, R., Sabater-Mir, J., Solaz, H., & Villatoro, D. (2013). Punish and voice: Punishment enhances cooperation when combined with norm-signalling. PLoS One, 8(6), e64941.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Andrighetto, G., Villatoro, D., & Conte, R. (2010). Norm internalization in artificial societies. AI Communications, 23(4), 325–339.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Barbagli, M., & Colombo, A. (2011). Rapporto sulla criminalità e la sicurezza in Italia 2010. Technical report, Ministero dell’InternoGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bicchieri, C. (2006). The grammar of society: The nature and dynamics of social norms. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bicchieri, C., & Chavez, A. K. (2010). Behaving as expected: Public information and fairness norms. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 23(2), 161–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Broersen, J., Dastani, M., Hulstijn, J., Huang, Z., & van der Torre, L. (2001). The BOID architecture: Conflicts between beliefs, obligations, intentions and desires. Proceedings of the fifth international conference on autonomous agents (pp. 9–16). New York, NY: ACM Press.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Catanzaro, R. (1988). Il delitto come impresa. Storia sociale della mafia. Padua: Liviana.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cialdini, R. B., Reno, R. R., & Kallgren, C. A. (1990). A focus theory of normative conduct: Recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(6), 1015–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Coleman, J. S. (1990). Foundations of social theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Conte, R., Andrighetto, G., & Campennì, M. (Eds.). (2013). Minding norms: Mechanisms and dynamics of social order in agent societies., Oxford series on cognitive models and architectures Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Conte, R., & Castelfranchi, C. (1999). From conventions to prescriptions. Towards an integrated view of norms. Artificial Intelligence and Law, 7, 119–125.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Daniele, V. (2009). Organized crime and regional development. A review of the Italian case. Trends in Organized Crime, 12(3—-4), 211–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Di Cagno, G., & Natoli, G. (2004). Cosa Nostra ieri, oggi, domani. Bari: Dedalo.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Di Gennaro, G., & La Spina, A. (2010). I costi dell’illegalità. Camorra ed estorsioni in Campania. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Diliberto, P. (2013). Addiopizzo 2.0, March. (MTV TV Series).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Dino, A. (2006). La violenza tollerata. Mafia, poteri, disobbedienza. Milan: Mimesis.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Dino, A. (2011). Gli ultimi padrini. Bari: La Terza.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ellickson, R. C. (1991). Order without law: How neighbors settle disputes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Elster, J. (2007). Explaining social behavior: More nuts and bolts for the social sciences (2rev ed.). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Elster, J. (2009). Norms. In P. Hedström & P. Bearman (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of analytical sociology (pp. 195–217). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    European Commission, G. (2014). TNS Opinion. Eurobarometer 79.1 (February–March 2013), ZA5687 Data file Version 1.0.0.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Fehr, E., & Fischbacher, U. (2004). Social norms and human cooperation. Trends in Cognitive Science, 8(4), 185–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Finnemore, M., & Sikkink, K. (1998). International norm dynamics and political change. International Organization, 52, 887–917.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Gambetta, D. (1993). The Sicilian mafia: The business of private protection. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    GESIS Data Archive. (2011). European values study 2008: Integrated dataset (EVS 2008), ZA4800 Data file Version 3.0.0.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Giannotti, F., Pedreschi, D., Pentland, A., Lukowicz, P., Kossmann, D., Crowley, J., et al. (2012). A planetary nervous system for social mining and collective awareness. The European Physical Journal Special Topics, 214(1), 49–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Henrich, J., Boyd, R., Bowles, S., Camerer, C., Fehr, E., Gintis, H., et al. (2001). In search of homo economicus: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. The American Economic Review, 91(2), 73–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Henrich, J., Boyd, R., Bowles, S., Camerer, C., Fehr, E., Gintis, H., et al. (2005). “Economic man” in cross-cultural perspective: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(6), 795–815.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Henrich, J., Ensminger, J., McElreath, R., Barr, A., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., et al. (2010). Markets, religion, community size, and the evolution of fairness and punishment. Science, 327(5972), 1480–1484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Hill, P. B. E. (2006). The Japanese mafia: Yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Hollander, M., & Wolfe, D. A. (1973). Nonparametric statistical methods. New York, NY: Wiley.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ihrig, M., & Troitzsch, K. G. (2013). An extended research framework for the simulation era. In R. Diaz & F. Longo (Eds.), Emerging M&S applications in industry and academia symposium and the modeling and humanities (EAIA and MathH 2013), 2013 Spring Simulation Multiconference (SpringSim ’13) of Simulation Series (Vol. 45, pp. 99–106). Red Hook, NY: Curran Associates Inc.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Istituto Nazionale di Statistica. (2011). Sicurezza dei cittadini.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Keizer, K., Lindenberg, S., & Steg, L. (2008). The spreading of disorder. Science, 322(5908), 1681–1685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    La Spina, A. (2005). Mafia, legalità debole e sviluppo del mezzogiorno. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    La Spina, A. (Ed.). (2008). I costi dell’illegalità. Mafia ed estorsioni in Sicilia. Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    La Spina, A. (2014). The fight against the Italian mafia. In L. Paoli (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of organized crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    La Spina, A., Avitabile, A., Frazzica, G., Punzo, V., & Scaglione, A. (2013). Mafia sotto pressione. Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Lavezzi, A. M. (2008). Economic structure and vulnerability to organised crime: Evidence from Sicily. Global Crime, 3(9), 1998–220.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Luck, M., Mahmoud, S., Meneguzzi, F., Kollingbaum, M., Norman, T. J., Criado, N., et al. (2013). Normative agents. In S. Ossowski (Ed.), Agreement technologies (Vol. 8, pp. 209–220)., Law, governance and technology series New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    D. M. Why the yakuza are not illegal. (2015). Retrieved February 17, 2016, from
  46. 46.
    McDermott, J. (2014). The FARC and the drug trade: Siamee twins?Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Meier, S., Pierce, L., & Vaccaro, A. (2013). Trust and parochialism in a culture of crime. Technical report, Columbia Business School.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Militello, V. (2013). Transnational organized crime and European Union: Aspects and problem. In Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung & R. Schönenberg (Eds.), Transnational organized crime. Analyses of a global challenge to the democracy (pp. 255–266). Bielefeld: Transcript.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Militello, V., La Spina, A., Frazzica, G., Punzo, V., & Scaglione, A. (2014). Quali-quantitative summary of data on extortion rackets in Sicily. Deliverable 1.1, GLODERS Project.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Neumann, M., & Lotzmann, U. (2015). Mafia war: Emergence and collapse of social order in criminal organizations. In Social simulation 2015. Groningen: European Social Simulation Association.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Ostrom, T. (1988). Computer simulation: The third symbol system. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 381–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Palazzolo, S., & Prestipino, M. (2007). Il codice Provenzano. Rome: Laterza.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Pezzino, P. (1990). Una certa reciprocità di favori. Mafia e modernizzazione violenta nella Sicilia postunitaria. Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Pinotti, P. (2012). The economic costs of organised crime: Evidence from Southern Italy. Technical report, Banca d’Italia, Rome.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Punzo, V. (2013). I protagonisti. Un’analisi qualitativa della rappresentazione del boss mafioso. In M. D’Amato (Ed.), La mafia allo specchio (pp. 158–180). Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Punzo, V. (2013). Le mafie: Struttura organizzativa, dimensione storica, impatto geografico. In M. D’Amato (Ed.), La mafia allo specchio (pp. 25–46). Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Romano, S. F. (1963). Storia della mafia. Milan: Sugar.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Savona, E. U. (2012). Italian mafias’ asymmetries. In D. Siegel & H. van de Bunt (Eds.), Traditional organized crime in the modern world (Vol. 11, pp. 3–25)., Studies of organized crime New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Scaglione, A. (2008). Il racket delle estorsioni. In A. La Spina (Ed.), I costi dell’illegalità. Mafia ed estorsioni in Sicilia (pp. 77–112). Bologna: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Scaglione, A. (2011). Le reti mafiose. Cosa Nostra e Camorra. Organizzazioni a confronto. Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Schelling, T. C. (1967). The strategy of inflicting costs. In R. C. McKean (Ed.), Issues in defense economics (pp. 105–128). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER Books).Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Schelling, T. C. (1971). Dynamic models of segregation. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1, 143–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. 63.
    Sciarrone, R. (2009). Mafie vecchie, mafie nuove. Rome: Donzelli.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Shapiro, S. S., & Wilk, M. B. (1965). An analysis of variance test for normality (complete samples). Biometrika, 52(3–4), 591–611.MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Varese, F. (1996). What is the Russian mafia? Low Intensity Conflict and Law Enforcement, 5, 129–138.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Varese, F. (2001). The Russian mafia: Private protection in a new market economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. 67.
    Varese, F. (2013). Mafias on the move: How organized crime conquers new territories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Varese, F. (2014). Protection and extortion. In L. Paoli (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of organized crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Vespignani, A. (2009). Predicting the behavior of techno-social systems. Science, 325(5939), 425–428.MathSciNetCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  70. 70.
    Zeigler, B. P. (1985). Theory of modelling and simulation. Malabar: Krieger Reprint, first published in 1976 New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luis G. Nardin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Giulia Andrighetto
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rosaria Conte
    • 1
  • Áron Székely
    • 1
  • David Anzola
    • 4
  • Corinna Elsenbroich
    • 4
  • Ulf Lotzmann
    • 3
  • Martin Neumann
    • 3
  • Valentina Punzo
    • 5
  • Klaus G. Troitzsch
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, CNRRomeItaly
  2. 2.European University InstituteFiesoleItaly
  3. 3.Universität Koblenz-LandauKoblenzGermany
  4. 4.Centre for Research in Social SimulationUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  5. 5.Department of Law, Society and SportUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly

Personalised recommendations