Institutions: Origins, Functioning, Overthrowing

                                                                                                                                         Rawls (1963): "Institutions are understood as those publicly recognized systems of rules which are generally acted upon and which, by defining offices and positions, rights and duties, give political and social activity its form and structure."

                                                                                                                                            North (1990): "Institutions are the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, are the humanly                                                                                                                                         devised constraints  that shape human interaction. […] In consequence they structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social, or economic."

: Lucia Dalla Pellegrina (Economics, UNIMIB)

Research promoters:
Lucia Dalla Pellegrina (Economics, UNIMIB), Astrid Gamba
(Economics, UNIMIB), Mario Gilli (Economics, UNIMIB), Emanuele Lo Gerfo (Neuroscience, UNIMIB), Marco Mantovani (Economics, UNIMIB), Giulio Mellinato (Economic History, UNIMIB), Stefania Ottone (Economics, UNIMIB), Alberto Pisoni (Neuroscience, UNIMIB), Leonor Romero (Neuroscience, UNIMIB), Simona Sacchi (Psychology, UNIMIB), Margherita Saraceno (Economics, UNIMIB), Peter Lewisch (Law, University of Vienna), Matteo Migheli (Economics, University of Turin), Ferruccio Ponzano (Economics, UNIUPO), Luca Zarri (Economics, University of Verona)

Our research is focused
on the Origins, Functioning and Overthrowing of (both formal and informal) Institutions.

Concerning the first issue (Origins),
the aim of this project is to shed light on the motivational, cognitive and neural dimension, as well as the evolutionary processes, underlying the sense of justice, such as the reaction to socio-economics inequalities, the propensity to sanction misbehaviour and common reactions when punished by others.

The second area of study (Functioning) deals with the mechanisms through which institutions regulate and control societies. More specifically, it focuses on misbehaviour and sanctions.

Some sub-projects can be identified:

Judges’ activity. The project is aimed at studying judicial decision-making and the efficiency of sanctioning mechanisms in different contexts. In particular, it focuses on the impact of a vertical review on first instance sentences and on judges’ attitude towards judicial errors and the implications of: i) judges’ obligation to give reason, ii) judicial ideology, iii) biased decision-making.

Victimsreaction to misbehaviour. The project is aimed at inquiring three aspects that have not yet fully addressed by the existing contributions. In particular, it focuses on: i) the effect of credible vs. non credible retaliation power of the victim on criminal’s attitude towards settlement; ii) the value of reputation for criminals; and iii) how the way in which the initial endowment is gained affects individualsbehaviour during litigation.

Money laundering can be described as a rational choice of investment:  an illegal capital is transformed into a legal asset. The main purpose for a criminal involved in money laundering is to make the money earned through illegal activities usable for legal transactions, without being traced in relation to source crimes. On the one hand, money laundering decisions involve a strict comparison between legal and illegal returns. On the other hand, it seems reasonable that launderers also account for both the risks and the costs other than those having a financial/economic nature: the risk of being detected and punished, the risk of reputational loss, the risk of being involved in further crimes, moral standards, etc. The aim of this project is to investigate the role of such non-economic feaures in money laundering decisions.

Access to justice for prisoners. Being imprisoned puts inmates in the paradoxical situation of being into the judicial system while being - at the same time - excluded from it. Evidence shows that imprisonment by itself represents a recurrent cause to give up trying to solve legal problems. This study is aimed at investigating both institutional and cognitive obstacles to effective access to justice for prison inmates. In particular, some inmate-specific characteristics, on the one hand, and prison-specific characteristics, on the other hand, are analysed as factors able to affect the capacity of prisoners to manage their pending legal issues.

Optimal incentive mechanisms that rely on social enforcement to fight collusive crime. We focus on collaborative crimes whereby economic agents jointly violate the law for their mutual benefit at the expenses of the society (e.g., organized crime, corruption, drug cartels). Besides detection and punishment, regulatory proposals have been increasingly focusing on social enforcement to fight collaborative law violations. The idea is to provide one of the parties involved in the criminal activity with the incentives to disrupt the collusive agreement (e.g., leniency programs, reduced sanctions for bribe-givers who plea guilty etc.). Yet, the option of adopting social enforcement to fight collusive crime poses a serious challenge. Weakening sanctions or depenalizing certain violations makes crime more appealing as it reduces both the material expected cost of crime and the moral cost of violating the law. The research focuses on: i) studying how this trade-off shapes the optimal enforcement policies; ii) understanding how intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to comply with the law (norms vs. material incentives) contribute to the effectiveness of programs that hinge on the breakdown of illegal bargaining agreements.

Social inequalities Perception and consequences. Fairness is a pillar of interpersonal interactions and human sociality. Given their centrality in human beings' psychological life, fairness and equity are likely to tailor cognitive processes, judgments and choices thus leading individual's decision-making. Starting from this assumption the goal of the present line of research is twofold. On the one hand, we aim to investigate the socio-cognitive processes that determine the perception of equity/inequality - fairness/unfairness (such as perception of procedural vs. distributive justice; moral reasoning; moral perception; definition and transmission of social norms) as well as the factors that are likely to moderate these mechanisms (e.g. membership). On the other hand, we aim to explore the consequences of social inequalities on individual’s well-being and on cognitive functions (e.g. how inequality and scarcity may impair cognitive processes).

Sanctions, altruism and social stability. The project aims at verifying whether, within a society where sanctions ensure the enforcement of norms and law, there is a higher level of cooperation, altruism and social stability, even though group and ethnic heterogeneity prevails. We will attempt to provide an answer to the following question: are cooperation and altruism a byproduct of sanctions, so that their diffusion crucially depends on the presence of sanctioning mechanisms? Or do they proceed along somehow parallel paths?

The third reasearch program (Overthrowing) focuses on Political Regimes and Conflicts. The object is the theoretical and systematic empirical analysis of the interaction between the functioning of political regimes and inside or outside conflicts. The idea is to focus on formal and informal interaction rules provided by political regimes and the strategic reaction by inside and outside agents, reaction that might involve legal and illegal ways of conflicting. Potential target phenomena include: strikes and social or political demonstrations; sudden changes in public opinion that might emerge in conflicts or in extremist voting behavior; forms of armed struggle such as terrorism and criminal wars like state-mafia conflicts or cartel-state conflicts; peculiar forms of contesting political regimes such as protest or defection; transition processes between different kind of political regimes, such as democratization or autocratization, and the hidden work of different polities; dynamics of cooperation, segregation and conflict between communities.

We think that these are promising routes for improving and widening our understanding of how political regimes work in connection with agents’ reactions.  

Institution is a
relevant subject of study for different disciplines: political science, anthropology, economics, psychology, sociology, law, etc.
For this reason, it is a suitable topic to study through the mixed-methods approach supported by Poteete et al. (2010), according to which the use of different complementary methodologies to a topic provide a better knowledge of the phenomenon.
Our strategy consists of: 1) organizing periodic seminars in order to develop a common language between different disciplines; 2) publish our research on international scientific journals

Approach: see subprojects

Initiatives: see subprojects