Group Punishment Yields Cooperation

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How cooperation is maintained in human societies: Punishment, study suggests (excerpted)

  • by ScienceDaily (May 3, 2010)

The finding challenges previous cooperation/punishment models that argue punishment is uncoordinated and unconditional.

But it turns out that most members of large groups cooperate

  • cooperation is maintained by punishment
  • which reduces the benefits to free riding.
  • Thus, there is the threat of losing societal benefits if a member does not cooperate, which leads to increased group cooperation.

Costs may be defined as loss of friendship or loss of relational closeness with other members of the group.

Their model had three stages in which a large group of unrelated individuals interacted repeatedly.

  • The first stage was a signaling stage where group members could signal their intent to punish.
  • In the second stage, group members could choose to cooperate or not.
  • The final stage was a punishment stage when group members could punish other group members.

The results of their model look a lot like what is seen in most human societies, where individuals meet and decide whether and how to punish group members who are not cooperating. This is coordinated punishment where group members signal their intent to punish, only punish when a threshold has been met and share the costs of punishing.

Boyd argues that even in societies without formal institutions for establishing rules and methods of punishment, group punishment appears to be effective at maintaining cooperation.

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