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Our conception of institutions

Institutions are crucial for shaping human interactions, securing social cohesion, regulating individual and collective behavior and nurturing trust; as such, they determine the ability of our modern societies to cope with the unprecedented challenges they are facing (e.g., recent financial, environmental and humanitarian crises).

INDEPTH considers institutions as either formal (e.g., markets, laws, incentives, sanction regimes) or informal (e.g., behavioral norms, habits, culture) structures and mechanisms that define the rules, boundaries and beliefs about actions within a community: when and how one ought to act, how one can or cannot behave, what kind of beliefs one holds about others' behaviors.

INDEPTH adopts both a normative perspective (discussing desirable normative criteria) and a positive perspective (how to promote cooperation, efficiency, and democratic values). Its multidisciplinary agenda allows us to investigate the behavioral foundations and neural mechanisms of these institutions and their causal impact on the evolution of moral and social preferences.

A multidisciplinary approach

INDEPTH involves four teams:
  • GATE-Behavior (UMR5824) : CNRS, U. Lyon 1, U. Lyon 2, U. St-Etienne and ENS de Lyon
  • GATE-Theory (UMR5824) : CNRS, U. Lyon 1, U. Lyon 2, U. St-Etienne and ENS de Lyon
  • Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod, Neuroeconomics lab (UMR5229): CNRS and U. Lyon 1
  • LIRIS (UMR5205): U. Lyon 1, INSA, CNRS, U. Lyon 2, Ecole Centrale de Lyon.

- Combining mathematics, cooperative game theory and behavioral economics helps develop axiomatic foundations of social rules and norms, and the construction of institutional mechanisms that account for human preferences and biases.

- Combining behavioral and experimental economics helps investigate how institutions in turn shape individual and social preferences, within and across decision-making contexts.

- Combining neuroscience and behavioral economics helps uncover the neural, physiological and emotional bases of the interplay between institutions and preferences when people decide to comply with rules and norms or to violate them.

Work Packages:

  • WP 1 investigates how normative principles and preferences shape institutions. It includes research projects on the design of institutions, whose outcomes meet some desirable normative principles (such as equity, stability, diversity), yet considering the structure of interactions between individuals (as communication systems or hierarchies), and behavioral aspects (such as norms violations or behavioral elasticities).
  • WP 2 investigates how institutions (re)shape preferences directly and indirectly, beyond their targeted scope of intervention, by influencing moral norms. It studies the learning of moral values, and the spillover effects of deterrence and democratic institutions on morality and social preferences.
  • WP 3 analyzes how economic, emotional and neural mechanisms interact to influence rule compliance. It includes studies of the neural determinants of rule violation, of spillover effects of norm violation on compliance with other norms, of the role of emotions in rule compliance.


INDEPTH combines axiomatic, mathematics, behavioral and experimental economics, electrophysiology, computational neuroscience and neuroimaging.
  • Theoretical modeling will be based on based on cooperative game theory and behavioral game theory.
  • Behavioral economic theories will be tested in controlled lab experiments conducted on the GATE-Lab ( experimental platform, by introducing exogenous changes to identify causal relationships.
  • Field experiments will be conducted in natural environments, using actors to create experimental manipulations.
  • Model-based neuroimaging, using fMRI, conducted at the ISC Marc Jeannerod ( will investigate the effects of specific brain regions in the reaction to certain institutions and in the management of moral dilemmas. Non-invasive brain methods (such as tDCS) will be used as a complement to assess the causal roles of these brain regions in a given process.
  • Stress levels measured during decision-making will be monitored with measures of skin conductance responses and heart rates.