What is it about?

Small rule violations like littering, texting-while-driving and not wearing masks in a pandemic are prevalent and bear heavy social costs. In this paper we look at what enforcement policy will best reduce the prevalence of such violations. While classic theories and common views suggest that the severity of the punishment is the most important deterrence factor, we show it is the frequency of inspection, rather than the severity of punishments, that has the most pronounced effect.

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Why is it important?

Minor behavioral violations, which may individually be perceived as having a negligible effect, can, over large populations cause extensive cumulative damage to society with devastating consequences. We show that when the frequency of enforcement is very low (as in most real-life situations), increasing enforcement frequency by as little as several percent points is enough to achieve a drastic reduction in violations. Thus, our research suggests that policy-makers should channel resources towards increasing the frequency of enforcement rather than towards stricter punishments.


For me, the most exciting thing about this paper is the bridging between three vast literatures that have thus far only seldom communicated. Even more exciting is that by doing so we managed to turn something theoretical and abstract into a practical recipe for dealing with a very real and tangible social problem. I hope this will pave the path for the design of better interventions that will be effective and sustainable in the long run.

Dr. Kinneret Teodorescu
Technion Israel Institute of Technology

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Frequency of enforcement is more important than the severity of punishment in reducing violation behaviors, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2108507118.
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