Reputation systems, aggression, and deterrence in social interaction
Why do individuals sometimes pursue apparently senseless aggression, whether on the street, in court, at work, or in politics? Past work converges on the idea that individuals do so to establish social rank and deter prospective challengers. However, the fundamental claims of this argument – that concerns for one’s reputation cause individuals to behave aggressively, and that a reputation for aggression deters threats from others – remain controversial. This paper offers a theoretical argument linking concern for reputation to aggressive behavior and deterrence. The theory argues that in competitive interactions, determining one’s likelihood of prevailing in conflict (“competitive ability”) is crucial for deciding whether to pursue conflict, but also rife with uncertainty. This motivates individuals to engage in aggressive behavior to signal to others (perhaps falsely) that they are strong competitors. Two behavioral experiments test this argument, and find that reputation systems motivate aggressive behavior, competitive ability moderates this effect, and reputations for aggressive behavior deter aggression from others. The results contribute to understanding the role reputation systems play in the social organization of aggressive behavior. âº Two experiments test the effects of reputation systems and competitive ability on aggression. âº Reputation systems increase aggression by low, but not high, competitive ability individuals. âº Reputations for aggressive behavior deter – and not invite –reciprocal aggression from others.