When Do We Punish People Who Don't?

46 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2017 Last revised: 30 Jun 2018

See all articles by Justin Martin

Justin Martin

Boston College

Jillian Jordan

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Fiery Cushman

Harvard College

Date Written: December 1, 2017

Abstract

People sometimes engage in “higher-order punishment,” or punishment of people who fail to punish others. For instance, a parent might rebuke a teacher for failing to discipline a classroom bully. However, the psychology underlying higher-order punishment is poorly understood. Here, we conducted experiments exploring the contexts in which higher-order punishment occurs, using both incentivized economic games and hypothetical vignettes describing everyday situations. We presented participants with cases in which an individual fails to punish a transgressor, either as a victim (second-party) or as an observer (third-party). Across studies, we consistently observed higher-order punishment of non-punishing observers. Higher-order punishment of non-punishing victims, however, was consistently weaker, and sometimes non-existent. These results demonstrate the selective application of higher-order punishment, provide a new perspective on the psychological mechanisms that support it, and provide some clues regarding its function.

Keywords: Punishment, Cooperation, Norms, Adaptation

Suggested Citation

Martin, Justin and Jordan, Jillian and Rand, David G. and Cushman, Fiery, When Do We Punish People Who Don't? (December 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3080990 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3080990

Justin Martin (Contact Author)

Boston College ( email )

140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
United States

Jillian Jordan

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University ( email )

2211 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.daverand.org

Fiery Cushman

Harvard College ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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