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Culture and social identity in preserving cultural heritage: an experimental study

Kean Siang Chng (Department of Economics, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, George Town, Malaysia)
Suresh Narayanan (Department of Economics, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, George Town, Malaysia)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Article publication date: 7 August 2017



Due to the non-rivalrous and non-excludable characteristics of properties classified as being part of the cultural heritage of a city, owners of these properties face a lower incentive to maintain them. Many studies have advocated the participation of the local community in the maintenance of such “public” properties because community demands and tastes are better reflected through direct participation than through government intervention. One of the main factors that may determine whether or not such participation would be forthcoming is whether the community identifies with elements that the cultural heritage building represents. The purpose of this paper is to examine the cultural effects of the Chinese community with regard to the preservation of the heritage buildings that reflect the community’s early presence in George Town, Penang.


An experimental method was used to invoke feelings of social identity through historical and cultural photos about these buildings associated with the community. The authors attempted to create an emotional attachment to the cultural and historical values in a laboratory.


The authors found that information increased the participants’ positive feelings toward their historical and cultural backgrounds. This positive emotion might explain why the subjects appeared more willing to contribute to the public pool to maintain these buildings. The findings suggest that the incorporating cultural and historical information about heritage buildings may encourage more pro-social behaviors.

Social implications

Although community participation and discussions can help to align the conservation objectives of diverse stakeholders, the divergence between individual and collective interests may cause individuals to shirk from their commitment, given the public nature of the goods. Therefore, investigating whether a factor that aligns diverse interests or the nature of the game can influence behavior is important to the development of strategies used in the provision of public good.


Although the impact of social identity on social dilemma has been widely studied, the empirical proof and its application to preservation of cultural heritage has not been studied. As far as the authors know, this is the first paper that experimentally proves the importance of social identity and its role in provision of social goods.



Chng, K.S. and Narayanan, S. (2017), "Culture and social identity in preserving cultural heritage: an experimental study", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 44 No. 8, pp. 1078-1091.



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