When do we punish people who don't?

45 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2017  

Justin Martin

Boston College

Jillian Jordan

Yale University - Department of Psychology

David G. Rand

Yale University

Fiery Cushman

Harvard College

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

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

Yale University - Department of Psychology ( email )

P.O. Box 208205
New Haven, CT 06520-8205
United States

David G. Rand

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

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

Fiery Cushman

Harvard College ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views