Taboos and identity: Considering the unthinkable

Chaim Fershtman, Uri Gneezy, Moshe Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A taboo is an "unthinkable"action. Even the thought of violating a taboo triggers a punishment. We consider a model in which taboos are part of the definition of one's identity. Deliberating over breaking the taboo changes the individual's choice set, and provides information on possible private benefits. The strength of the taboo is determined by the number of individuals that obey it. We analyze the relationship between social heterogeneity and taboos' strength. We then examine societies in which individuals choose among several identities characterized by different taboos. We characterize the conditions that give rise to a multi-identity society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-164
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Economic Journal: Microeconomics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011


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