“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 use costly punishment.”
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 behavior.
“Punishment may be a tool for forcing another person to do what you want,” Dreber says. “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,”