Cooperation Commons: Interdisciplinary study of cooperation and collective action.
Altruistic Punishment in Humans
Summary of: Altruistic Punishment in Humans
Altruistic punishment may be the glue that holds societies together - by distributing and internalizing policing of free-riding, solving the second-order social dilemma that is an obstacle to collective action.
The evolutionary origins of human cooperation pose a puzzle - why do people so frequently cooperate with non-relatives, including people they are not likely to meet again? Existing theories for explaining the evolution of cooperation in a competitive environment include kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and costly signaling. Kin selection, performing altruistic acts at a cost to oneself but at the benefit of one's genes, does not explain non-familial cooperation. Reciprocal altruism does not explain generalized reciprocity, in which one performs altruistic acts for a member of a group, but not limited to actors who have specifically performed altruistic acts one one's behalf in the past. Signalling theory, which holds that altruistic acts enhance one's reputation and increase the chances of mating or useful alliances, does not explain human cooperation when reputation enhancement is not a factor. Using economic games like Prisoner's Dilemma, in which players were given the opportunity to punish free-riders from previous rounds at a cost to themselves, Fehr and Gachter show that cooperation flourishes when free-riders are punished, and that negative emotions toward free-riders "are the proximate mechanism behind altruistic punishment." These results suggest that future study of the evolution of human cooperation should include a strong focus on explaining altruistic punishment.
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