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Social Preferences And Intergroup Contact


  • Interaction, stereotypes, and performance: evidence from South Africa (2014 - 2019)

    Date: 2014 - 2019

    Research team: Justine Burns, Lucia Corno and Eliana La Ferrara

    This project explores the impact of institutional interventions aimed at improving integration on individual material and behavioural outcomes. We exploit random assignment of roommates in a large South African University to investigate whether interaction with a person of a different race affects stereotypes, attitudes, and academic performance. Different from existing studies that rely on survey-based measures of attitudes, we rely on Implicit Association Tests (IATs).


    • Burns, J., Corno, L., & La Ferrara, E. Interaction, Stereotypes and Performance: Evidence from South Africa. Working Paper, February 2015.
  • Decomposing trust into risk preferences, prosocial influences, and subjective beliefs (2015 - 2018)

    Date: 2015 - 2018

    Research team: Harold Kincaid, Andre Hofmeyr, Brian Monroe, Rinelle Chetty (Masters) and Tarryn Beattie (Masters)

    Trust is central to many, if not most, human interactions. It has been studied using a variety of methods but an economic experiment known as the trust game has become the behavioural measure of choice in social science investigations of trust. This measure, specifically, the amount sent in the game, is often used uncritically to compare levels of trust across people and cultures even though it may be confounded by a range of factors such as risk attitudes, prosocial influences, and subjective beliefs about return probabilities. We adopt an incentive-compatible experimental design and a full information maximum likelihood statistical framework to decompose the amount sent in a trust game into a measure free of these potential confounds and thereby determine whether the amount sent in this game is anything more than just the sum of its parts.

    A successful pilot was run in 2015 and a more sophisticated follow-up study will be conducted in 2018.

  • Social cohesion: inequality, redistribution, and cooperation (2018)

    Date: 2018

    Research team: Justine Burns, Arnim Langer and Olivia Rusch

    This project aims to investigate the relationship between inequality, redistribution, and cooperation. In particular, we will use surveys and economic experiments to investigate how the nature and source of inequality affects cooperation, and whether intervening to redress inequality serves to improve cooperative behaviour. This project forms part of a broader research project which aims to study the challenges of social cohesion building in South Africa.

  • Economic status and acknowledgement of earned entitlement (2014 - 2015)

    Date: 2014 - 2015

    Research team: Justine Burns, Abigail Barr and Ingrid Shaw

    The notion of distributive justice underpinning market-driven societies is that effort and productivity, owing to inherent talent or acquired ability, should be acknowledged and rewarded. Tendencies to acknowledge entitlement owing to effort and productivity are thought to be associated with economic status. Numerous analyses of attitudinal surveys such as the World Values Survey, the US General Social Survey and the European Social Survey indicate that, within developed market-driven societies, the poor favour redistribution while the rich do not. This is consistent with Babcock and Loewenstein’s (1997) proposition that “people tend to arrive at judgments of what is fair or right that are biased in the direction of their own self-interests” (Babcock and Loewenstein, 1997: 111). However, there is a lacuna in the body of experimental evidence pertaining to the notions of distributive justice held by poorer people in developed countries.

    To address this lacuna we conducted a series of experiments, in the United Kingdom and South Africa, designed to investigate whether an individual's tendency to acknowledge earned entitlement is associated with his or her economic status relative to others. Each participant played a four-person dictator game under one of two treatments. In treatment one, initial endowments were earned, and in treatment two, they were randomly assigned.


    • Barr , A., Burns, J. Miller, L., & Shaw, I. 2015. Economic status and acknowledgement of earned entitlement, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 118: 55-68.
  • Impact evaluation of activate! Youth leadership programme (2012 - 2015)

    Date: 2012 - 2015

    Research team: This project was conducted by researchers from a number of organisations, including RUBEN and the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU). Researchers included: Justine Burns (RUBEN & SALDRU) and Malcolm Keswell (SALDRU & RUBEN).

    This multi-year study, funded by DG Murray Trust, was an innovative impact evaluation of the Activate! youth leadership development programme. The Activate! programme aims to grow and equip a network of young leaders to drive change for the public good across South Africa through innovative and creative solutions.  Since a key component of the programme is to promote pro-social behaviour in the interest of society at large, the evaluation study combined traditional survey-based measures of socio-economic, demographic and attitudinal data with behavioural measures on pro-social preferences to evaluate the extent to which the programme achieved its objectives.


  • Brick, K., Visser, M., & Van der Hoven, Z. 2016. Cooperation and Climate Change: Can Communication facilitate the Provision of Public Goods in Heterogeneous Settings? Environment and Resource Economics 64(3): 421-443.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-015-9879-z
  • Barr , A., Burns, J., Miller, L., & Shaw, I. 2015. Economic status and acknowledgement of earned entitlement, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 118: 55-68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2015.02.012 
  • Brick, K. & Visser, M. 2015. What is Fair? An experimental Guide to Climate Negotiations. European Economic Review 74: 79-95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroecorev.2014.11.010
  • Burns, J. & Keswell, M. 2015. Diversity and the provision of public goods: Experimental evidence from South Africa, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2015.02.018
  • Visser, M. & Burns, J. 2015. Inequality, social sanctions and cooperation within South African fishing communities, Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2015.03.009
  • Tibesigwa, B. & Visser, M. 2015. Multiple and concurrent sex partnerships and social norms: Young adults’ sexual relationships in the metropolitan communities of Cape Town South Africa. Sexuality Research and Social Policy 12(4): 301-316.https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-015-0200-2
  • Waithima, A. & Burns, J. 2014. The role of ethnic heterogeneity on corruption: Experimental evidence from Kenya, in Nduku, E. and Tenamwenye, J. (eds). Corruption in Africa: A Threat to Justice and Sustainable Peace, Globethics Focus 14, Globethics, ISBN 978-2-88931-017-3. http://erepo.usiu.ac.ke/handle/11732/343
  • Aknin, L.B., Barrington-Leigh, C.P., Dunn, E.W., Helliwell, J.F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., Ashton-James, C.E., & Norton, M. I. 2013. Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; April, 104(4): 635-52.https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031578
  • Burns, J. 2012. Race, Diversity and Pro-social behaviour in a segmented society, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organisation, 81: 366-378. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2011.11.006
  • Burns, J. & Hofmeyr, A. 2012. Two Sides of the Same Coin: Re-examining Nepotism and Discrimination in a Segmented Society, Review of Social Economy, 70(3): 344-374.https://doi.org/10.1080/00346764.2011.632321
  • Ross, D. 2012. Special human vulnerability to low-cost collective punishment. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 35(1): 37-38.https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X11000896
  • Sharp, C., Barr, G., Ross, D., Bhimani, R., Ha, C., & Vuchinich, R. 2011. Social discounting and externalizing behavior problems in boys. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 25: 239-247.https://doi.org/10.1002/bdm.719