Interestingly, our findings are also consistent with empirical studies showing that the severity of criminal sanctions is not correlated with the level of crime in society, whereas enforcement prevalence has consistently been found to be related to crime rate. Our controlled experimental setting demonstrates a causal link between enforcement prevalence and violation rates for a general (noncriminal) population and for small-scale violations and punishments, therefore supporting and extending the recommendation often made in the crime literature to increase punishment prevalence rather than severity .
Our results run counter to the economic hypothesis, which posits that severe punishments are more effective than high monitoring in reducing violations in the general population. One plausible reason for this discrepancy is that experimental studies supporting the economic prediction tend to employ an explicit descriptive setting with very few opportunities for violation. The current studies employed an arguably more ecologically valid setting, in which implicit opportunities to violate were repeated many times and the probability of inspection was not described a priori. Hence, the difference could be the result of a description-experience gap in violation decisions, similar to the gap found in risky choice.