Cooperation Commons: Interdisciplinary study of cooperation and collective action.
An Evolutionary Approach to Norms
Summary of: An Evolutionary Approach to Norms
Exploration of games in which punishment is possible and cheating is not automatically detected reveals that norms can emerge and stabilize only if those who fail to punish violators are also punished.
The decrease in punishment of those who failed to punish violators may have played a part in the sudden collapse of communism, and Granovetter noted that riots can have tipping points in which "a slight change in the willingness of a few people to act first can get the ball rolling." Axelrod defines norms thus: "A norm exists in a given social setting to the extent that individuals usually act in a certain way and are often punished when seen not to be acting in this way." Therefore, norms are a matter of degree, not all or nothing. "By linking vengefulness against nonpunishers with vengefulness against defectors, the metanorm provides a mechanism by which the norm against defection becomes self-policing." Reputation plays a role because defection is not only a means for a defector to harvest a payoff, but a signal that can be used be others: "a norm is likely to originate in a type of behavior that signals things about individuals that will lead others to reward them." The observation from norms-game trials that norms can sometimes establish themselves quickly led Axelrod to conclude that "there may be some useful cooperative norms that could be hurried along with relatively modest interventions."
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