When do we punish people who don't?
45 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2017
Date Written: December 1, 2017
Humans often punish norm violators. But why are people willing to incur the personal costs of punishing? A prominent body of theoretical work argues that higher-order punishment is the answer: those who fail to punish norm violators will themselves be punished. Yet there has been little empirical investigation of whether non-punishers are actually punished. Here, we address this gap with experiments using both incentivized games and hypothetical vignettes describing everyday situations. We present participants with cases in which an individual fails to engage in punishment, either as a victim (2nd-party) or as an observer (3rd-party). Across studies we find higher-order punishment of non-punishing observers. Higher-order punishment of non-punishing victims, conversely, was consistently weaker, and sometimes non-existent. These results demonstrate the selective application of higher-order punishment and, in turn, provide a new perspective on the adaptive rationale of human norm enforcement in 2nd and 3rd party contexts.
Keywords: Punishment, Cooperation, Norms, Adaptation
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