The Influence of Social Group and Context on Punishment Decisions: Insights from Social Neuroscience
Posted: 15 May 2009
Date Written: May 21, 2009
Social psychology has argued that social factors influence some evil behavior (Fiske, et al., 2004). Obedience to authority (Milgram, 1974), conformity (Asch, 1948), and other forms of social influence (Darley & Latane, 1968; Zimbardo, 1971) cause people to unknowingly and unwillingly behave immorally. Nonetheless, punish decisions are motivated by desires to deter, revenge, and restoration (Carlsmith, et al., 2002), and altruistic punishment reinforces social norms (Fehr & Gachter, 2000). Neuroscience research has begun to reveal neural correlates of these decisions suggesting that cognitive and affective factors influence decisions to trust and punish (Seymour, Singer, & Dolan, 2006). In the context of economic games, people trust perceived immoral and disgusting groups less, punish them more, and punishment less on their behalf, for the same transgressions. Furthermore, perceived moral status and responsibility for moral status interact to affect punishment decision, possibly mediated by affective signals inherent to the transgressor. These data suggest that punishment decision makers should be aware of the fundamental attribution error of attributing behavior to the mind of the social target, paying no attention to their own minds as it makes real-life decisions.
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