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Abstract

We report the results of experiments designed to test the effect of social status on contributions to a public good, with and without punishment. The experiments are conducted in four-person groups in a “star” network, where one central player observes and is observed by the others. This imposes a social structure on the game, and gives the central player a leadership role in the group, simply by virtue of being commonly observed. We further manipulate status by allocating the central position to the person who earns the highest, or the lowest, score on a trivia quiz. These high-status and low-status treatments are compared, and we find that the effect of organizational structure—the existence of a central position—depends on the status of the central player. Higher status players are attended to and mimicked more systematically. Punishment has differential effects in the two treatments, and is least effective in the high-status case.