When Do We Punish People Who Don't?
46 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2017 Last revised: 30 Jun 2018
Date Written: December 1, 2017
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
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