"…winners … resist the temptation to escalate conflicts, while the losers punish and perish"


‘Put simply, winners don’t punish,’ says co-author David G. Rand of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and Department of Systems Biology.

‘Punishment can lead to a downward spiral of retaliation, with destructive outcomes for everybody involved. The people with the highest total payoffs do not to use costly punishment.’

“The thing that is best for you is to stop contributing, to walk away, as opposed to expending a lot of effort insulting them, threatening them or taking aggressive action.”

Punishing someone else in a situation where both parties are equal creates an “opportunity cost.   “The time that you are spending being punitive toward the other person could be spending doing things that are more productive.”

But it also does not pay to let the freeloader ride along. “It’s not quite turn the other cheek.  “We are saying you should only do as much as the other person is doing.”

Findings only apply in one-on-one situations — not to societies or cultures as a whole, or situations in which one person is more powerful than the other

‘There’s been a lot of previous work on the use of punishment in cooperation games, but the focus has not been on situations where individuals use punishment in the context of ongoing interactions,’

There is a strong negative correlation between individual payoff and the use of costly punishment.    Winners used a tit-for-tat like strategy while losers used costly punishment.   Furthermore, costly punishment did not increase the average payoff of the group.

The study shows that punishment is not an effective force for promoting cooperation.   

The unfortunate tendency of humans to engage in acts of costly punishment must have evolved for other reasons such as establishing dominance hierarchy and defending ownership, but not to promote cooperation.  

 In cooperation games, costly punishment is a detrimental and self-destructive behaviour.

‘Punishment may be a tool for forcing another person to do what you want.   ‘It might have been for those kinds of dominance situations that the use of punishment has evolved.’

‘Our finding has a very positive message: in an extremely competitive setting, the winners are those who resist the temptation to escalate conflicts, while the losers punish and perish,’