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Punishment: one tool, many uses

Raihani, NJ; Bshary, R; (2019) Punishment: one tool, many uses. Evolutionary Human Sciences , 1 (e12) 10.1017/ehs.2019.12. Green open access

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Abstract

Humans are outstanding in their ability to cooperate with unrelated individuals, and punishment – paying a cost to harm others – is thought to be a key supporting mechanism. According to this view, cooperators punish defectors, who respond by behaving more cooperatively in future interactions. However, a synthesis of the evidence from laboratory and real-world settings casts serious doubts on the assumption that the sole function of punishment is to convert cheating individuals into cooperators. Instead, punishment often prompts retaliation and punishment decisions frequently stem from competitive, rather than deterrent motives. Punishment decisions often reflect the desire to equalise or elevate payoffs relative to targets, rather than the desire to enact revenge for harm received or to deter cheats from reoffending in future. We therefore suggest that punishment also serves a competitive function, where what looks like spiteful behaviour actually allows punishers to equalise or elevate their own payoffs and/or status relative to targets independently of any change in the target's behaviour. Institutions that reduce or remove the possibility that punishers are motivated by relative payoff or status concerns might offer a way to harness these competitive motives and render punishment more effective at restoring cooperation.

Type: Article
Title: Punishment: one tool, many uses
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/ehs.2019.12
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2019.12
Language: English
Additional information: © The Author(s) 2019. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Competition; cooperation; fairness; punishment; spite
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10086579
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