“Cooperation” and Punishment May Be Just Selfish, Afterall

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Take Away

The researchers found that participants:

  • strongly conditioned their punishment of their partners’ cheating
  • on their own vulnerability to continued bad treatment from their partner…
  • people in these experiments systematically avoided expending effort to reform those who only posed a risk to others..

Evolutionary psychologists study the purpose of punishment and reputation by ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2012)

In an article published September 27 in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers at UC Santa Barbara’s Center for Evolutionary Psychology report new findings that may help settle the debate and provide answers to the behavioral puzzle.

As they go about their daily lives, people usually don’t know the names of the people they encounter and — in cities, at least — typically expect never to see them again…Despite the fact that these encounters are brief, anonymous, and unlikely to be repeated, however, people often behave as if they are interested in the ongoing well-being and behavior of the strangers they meet.

… At first glance, these sometimes costly impulses seem like they would subtract from the welfare of the individual who exhibited them, and so should be evolutionarily disfavored.”

The findings supported the individual cooperation account, not the group cooperation account. “Participants ceased responding to information about whether their partners cheated others when they had good information that their partners would not cheat them,”

The researchers found that participants:

  • strongly conditioned their punishment of their partners’ cheating
  • on their own vulnerability to continued bad treatment from their partner…
  • people in these experiments systematically avoided expending effort to reform those who only posed a risk to others..

    “It’s very hard to reconcile these findings with the group cooperation theory.”

 

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