Skip to main content

The evolution of norms within a society of captives

Abstract

How do norms evolve when people have no choice to opt out of social interactions? One example of such a setting is prison. Past research usually relies on ethnographic work to understand the emergence and maintenance of norms among prisoners. We instead use this rich qualitative literature to inform an agent-based model to demonstrate how norms evolve in response to demographic changes in prison. In the model, agents play a one-shot, though possibly repeated, prisoner’s dilemma with other agents. Agents lack the ability to decline to play with their selected opponent. We consider tag-mediated play and norm enforcement as mechanisms to facilitate prisoner cooperation and to examine the effects of increasing prison populations and increasing ethnic heterogeneity on the maintenance of cooperative norms. We also calibrate the model with empirical data from the California prison system. Parameters of the model correspond to demographic changes between 1951 and 2016, where the size of the prison population increased 14-fold and ethnic heterogeneity by 30%. Simulation results show that such changes dramatically decrease levels of cooperation and compliance. These results are consistent with the actual observed breakdown of the cooperative norms in California prisons.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8

Notes

  1. It is notoriously difficult to perform any human subject experimentation in this area. See, for example, the Stanford Prison Experiment, described in Haney et al. (1972).

  2. De Marchi and Page (2014) provides an excellent recent survey of the use of agent-based models in studying political and social questions.

  3. This paper also contributes to the literature that applies modeling and simulation to criminal justice issues. A seminal paper in this literature is Joshua Epstein’s (2002) model of civil violence. Goh et al. (2006) and Zou et al. (2012) provide refinements to that model. See also Melleson et al. (2012) on burglary, Austin et al. (2012) on street gang affiliation, and Tako and Robinson (2010) on modeling the U.K. prison population.

  4. Leeson (2007a, b) and Murtazashvili and Murtazashvili (2015) emphasize that it is often too costly to rely on government to enforce rights. There is also a large literature examining the conditions under which anarchy delivers desirable social and economic outcomes (Powell and Stringham 2009; Mildenberger 2015; Luther 2015).

  5. See Prietula and Conway (2009), Kendal et al. (2006), and Mahmoud et al. (2012) for other examples of Axelrod-inspired models of meta-norm emergence. See Horne (2001), Bendor and Mookherjee (1990), Sampson et al. (1997), Carpenter and Matthews (2010), and Fehr and Fishbacher (2004) for discussion of theoretical and experimental examples of third-party norm enforcement. See Kusakawa et al. (2012) for an example of an experiment in which the presence of a witness helps to encourage cooperative behavior in a one-shot PD.

  6. We define “doing better” as #utils current generation > #utils previous generation * tolerance. The greater the tolerance factor, the more certain the agent is that the new strategy is better. The tolerance factor helps to encourage stability on the margin, so the agent doesn’t cycle endlessly over a set of nearly optimal strategies.

  7. The strategies are shown in Table 2 on page 10. Since we assume agents are not hypocrites, this means that new agents are actually more likely to be cooperative, since there are relatively more cooperative strategies.

  8. The treatments are the same as those described on page 17, above.

  9. See Law and Kelton (2000) for more on regression analysis of simulation models.

  10. The California Department and Corrections classifies non-white, non-black, and non-Hispanic prisoners into the category “other.”

  11. The qualitative results from this section are similar if this parameter is set to zero.

  12. See Law and Kelton (2000: pp 582–584) for more information on the use of common random numbers as a variance reduction technique.

References

  • Akerlof GA, Kranton RE (2000) Economics and identity. Quart J Econ 115(3):715–753

    Google Scholar 

  • Akerlof GA, Kranton RE (2005) Identity and the economics of organizations. J Econ Perspect 19(1):9–32

    Google Scholar 

  • Austin J, Smith E, Srinivasan S, Sanchez F (2012) Social dynamics of gang involvement: a mathematical approach. Working paper

  • Avio K (1998) The economics of prisons. Eur J Law Econ 6(2):143–175

    Google Scholar 

  • Axelrod R (1986) An evolutionary approach to norms. Am Polit Sci Rev 80(4):1095–1111

    Google Scholar 

  • Bendor J, Mookherjee D (1990) Norms, third-party sanctions, and cooperation. J Law Econ Organ 6(1):33–63

    Google Scholar 

  • Benjamin DJ, Choi JJ, Strickland AJ (2010) Social identity and preferences. Am Econ Rev 100(4):1913–1928

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowker LH (1980) Prison victimization. Elsevier Science Ltd, Amsterdam

    Google Scholar 

  • Carpenter J, Matthews PH (2009) What norms trigger punishment? Exp Econ 12(3):272–288

    Google Scholar 

  • Carpenter JP, Matthews PH (2010) Norm enforcement: the role of third parties. J Inst Theor Econ 166(2):239–258

    Google Scholar 

  • Chen R, Chen Y (2011) The potential of social identity for equilibrium selection. Am Econ Rev 101(6):2562–2589

    Google Scholar 

  • Clemmer D (1940) The prison community. Christopher Publishing, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Cubitt RP, Drouvelis M, Gächter S (2011) Framing and free riding: emotional responses and punishment in social dilemma games. Exp Econ 14(2):254–272

    Google Scholar 

  • De Cremer D, Van Vugt M (2002) Intergroup and intragroup aspects of leadership in social dilemmas: a relational model of cooperation. J Exp Soc Psychol 38(2):126–136

    Google Scholar 

  • De Marchi S, Page SE (2014) Agent-based models. Annu Rev Polit Sci 17:1–20

    Google Scholar 

  • DiIulio JJ (1996) Help wanted: economists, crime, and public policy. J Econ Perspect 10(1):3–24

    Google Scholar 

  • Dixit A (2004) Lawlessness and economics: alternatives modes of governance. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Dooley BD, Seals A, Skarbek D (2014) The effect of prison gang membership on recidivism. J Crim Justice 42(3):267–275

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellickson R (1991) Order without law: how neighbors settle disputes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Enns PK (2014) The public’s increasing punitiveness and its influence on mass incarceration in the United States. Am J Polit Sci 58(4):857–872

    Google Scholar 

  • Epstein JM (2002) Modeling civil violence: an agent-based computational approach. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America, vol 99, no 3

  • Fehr E, Gachter S (2000) Cooperation and punishment in public goods experiments. Am Econ Rev 90(4):980–994

    Google Scholar 

  • Fehr E, Fischbacher U (2004) Third-party punishment and social norms. Evol Hum Behav 25(2):63-87

  • Fischer I (2009) Friend or foe: subjective expected relative similarity as a determinant of cooperation. J Exp Psychol Gen 138(3):341

    Google Scholar 

  • Fudenberg D, Maskin E (1986) The folk theorem in repeated games with discounting or with incomplete information. Econometrica 54(3):533–554

    Google Scholar 

  • Goette L, Huffman D, Meier S (2006) The impact of group membership on cooperation and norm enforcement: evidence using random assignment to real social groups. Am Econ Rev 96(2):212–216

    Google Scholar 

  • Goh CK, Quek K, Tan KC, Abbass HA (2006) Modeling civil violence: an evolutionary multi-agent, game theoretic approach. IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation, July 16–21, 2006

  • Greif A (1993) Contract enforceability and economic institutions in early trade: the Maghribi traders’ coalition. Am Econ Rev 83:525–548

    Google Scholar 

  • Greif A (2006) Institutions and the path to the modern economy: lessons from medieval trade. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Hales D (2001) Cooperation without memory or space. Lect Notes Comput Sci 1979:157–166

    Google Scholar 

  • Haney C, Banks C, Zimbardo P (1972) Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison (No. ONR-TR-Z-09). Stanford University, Department of Psychology

  • Holland J (1993) The effects of labels (tags) on social interactions. Working paper, Sante Fe Institute, 93-10-064

  • Horne C (2001) The enforcement of norms: group cohesion and meta-norms. Soc Psychol Quart 64(3):253–266

    Google Scholar 

  • Hunt G, Riegel S, Morales T, Waldorf D (1993) Changes in prison culture: prison gangs and the case of the ‘Pepsi generation.’ Soc Probl 40(3):398–409

    Google Scholar 

  • Irwin J (1980) Prisons in Turmoil. Little, Brown, & Co, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Irwin J, Cressey D (1962) Thieves, convicts, and the inmate culture. Soc Probl 10(2):142–155

    Google Scholar 

  • Janssen M (2008) Evolution of cooperation in a one-shot prisoner’s dilemma based on recognition of trustworthy and untrustworthy agents. J Econ Behav Organ 65:458–471

    Google Scholar 

  • Kendal J, Feldman MW, Aoki K (2006) Cultural coevolution of norm adoption and enforcement when punishers are rewarded or non-punishers are punished. Theor Popul Biol 70(1):10–25

    Google Scholar 

  • Kusakawa T, Ogawa K, Shichijo T (2012) An experimental investigation of a third-person enforcement in a prisoner’s dilemma game. Econ Lett 117(3):704–707

    Google Scholar 

  • Law AM, Kelton WD (2000) Simulation modeling and analysis, 3rd edn. McGraw Hill, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeson PT (2007a) An-arrgh-chy: the law and economics of pirate organization. J Polit Econ 115(6):1049–1094

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeson PT (2007b) Efficient anarchy. Public Choice 130(1–2):41–53

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeson PT (2009) The laws of lawlessness. J Legal Stud 38(2):471–503

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeson PT (2010) Pirational choice: the economics of infamous pirate practices. J Econ Behav Organ 76(3):497–510

    Google Scholar 

  • Leeson PT (2014) Anarchy unbound: why self-governance works better than you think. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Luther WJ (2015) The monetary mechanism of stateless Somalia. Public Choice 165(1–2):45–58

    Google Scholar 

  • Mahmoud S, Griffiths N, Keppens J, Luck M (2012) Norm emergence through dynamic policy adaptation in scale free networks. In: International workshop on coordination, organizations, institutions, and norms in agent systems. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

  • Melleson N, Heppenstall A, See L (2012) Crime reduction through simulation: an agent-based model of burglary. Comput Environ Urban Syst 34(3):236–250

    Google Scholar 

  • Mildenberger CD (2015) Virtual world order: the economics and organizations of virtual pirates. Public Choice 164(3–4):401–421

    Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell MM, Fahmy C, Pyrooz DC, Decker SH (2016) Criminal crews, codes, and contexts: differences and similarities across the code of the street, convict code, street gangs, and prison gangs. Deviant Behav 38:1–26

    Google Scholar 

  • Murtazashvili I, Murtazashvili J (2015) Anarchy, self-governance, and legal titling. Public Choice 162(3–4):287–305

    Google Scholar 

  • North MJ, Collier NT, Ozik J, Tatara E, Altaweel M, Macal CM, Bragen M, Sydelko P (2013) Complex adaptive systems modeling with repast symphony. In: Complex adaptive systems modeling. Springer, Heidelberg, FRG

  • Ostrom E (1990) Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Orbell JM, Schwartz-Shea P, Simmons RT (1984) Do cooperators exit more readily than defectors? Am Polit Sci Rev 78(01):147–162

    Google Scholar 

  • Powell B, Stringham EP (2009) Public choice and the economic analysis of anarchy: a survey. Public Choice 140(3–4):503–538

    Google Scholar 

  • Powell B, Wilson BJ (2008) An experimental investigation of Hobbesian jungles. J Econ Behav Organ 66(3):669–686

    Google Scholar 

  • Pratt TC, Cullen FT (2000) The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime: a meta-analysis. Criminology 38(3):931–964

    Google Scholar 

  • Prietula MJ, Conway D (2009) The evolution of metanorms: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Comput Math Organ Theory 15(3):147–168

    Google Scholar 

  • Radford RA (1945) The economic organisation of a POW camp. Economica 12(48):189–201

    Google Scholar 

  • Riolo RL (1997) The effects of tag-mediated selection of partners in populations playing the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. In: Proceedings of the international conference of genetic algorithms

  • Riolo RL, Cohen MD, Axelrod R (2001) Evolution of cooperation without reciprocity. Nature 414:441–443

    Google Scholar 

  • Rodrik D (2015) Economics rules: why economics works, when it fails, and how to tell the difference. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Rudoff A (1964) Prison inmates: an involuntary association. Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley

  • Sampson RJ, Raudenbush SW, Earls F (1997) Neighborhoods and violent crime: a multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277(5328):918–924

    Google Scholar 

  • Schuessler R (1989) Exit threats and cooperation under anonymity. J Confl Resolut 33(4):728–749

    Google Scholar 

  • Skarbek D (2012) Prison gangs, norms, and organizations. J Econ Behav Organ 82:96–109

    Google Scholar 

  • Skarbek D (2014) The social order of the underworld: how prison gangs govern the American penal system. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Skarbek D (2016) Covenants without the sword? Comparing prison self-governance globally. Am Polit Sci Rev 110(4):845–862

    Google Scholar 

  • Skarbek D (2020) The puzzle of prison order: why life behind bars varies around the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Stringham EP (2015) Private governance: creating order in economic and social life. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Sykes GM (1958) The society of captives: a study of a maximum security prison. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Sykes G, Messinger SL (1962) The inmate social code and its functions. In: Johnston N, Savitz L, Wolfgang ME (eds) The sociology of punishment and correction. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Tajfel H (1974) Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Inf Int Soc Sci Counc 13(2):65–93

    Google Scholar 

  • Tajfel H, Turner J (1979) An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In: Austin WG, Worchel S (eds) The social psychology of intergroup relations. Brooks/Cole Pub. Co., Monterey

    Google Scholar 

  • Tako A, Robinson S (2010) Model development in discrete-event simulation and system dynamics: an empirical study of expert modelers. Eur J Oper Res 207(1):784–794

    Google Scholar 

  • Tullock G (1985) Adam Smith and the prisoner’s dilemma. Quart J Econ 100:1073–1081

    Google Scholar 

  • Vanberg VJ, Congleton RD (1992) Rationality, morality, and exit. Am Polit Sci Rev 86(2):418–431

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams VL, Fish M (1974) Convicts, codes, and contra-band: the prison life of men and women. Ballinger Publishing Company, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Zou Y, Fonoberov V, Fonoberova M, Mezic I, Kevrekidis I (2012) Model reduction for agent-based social simulation: coarse-graining a civil violence model. Phys Rev 85:1–13

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chad W. Seagren.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (DOCX 13 kb)

Supplementary file2 (CSV 6606 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Seagren, C.W., Skarbek, D. The evolution of norms within a society of captives. J Econ Interact Coord 16, 529–556 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11403-021-00316-7

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11403-021-00316-7

Keywords

  • Self-governance
  • Norms
  • Prison
  • Agent-based model

JEL Classification

  • K4
  • P48
  • P37