SOCIOLOGY: Cooperation & Punishment

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Thu Jan 10 2002 - 10:06:51 MST

Nature is reporting on a Swiss study about cooperation and punishment.

Article (subscription probably required):

> Human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. Unlike other
> creatures, people frequently cooperate with genetically unrelated
> strangers, often in large groups, with people they will never meet again,
> and when reputation gains are small or absent. These patterns of
> cooperation cannot be explained by the nepotistic motives associated with
> the evolutionary theory of kin selection and the selfish motives
> associated with signalling theory or the theory of reciprocal altruism.
> Here we show experimentally that the altruistic punishment of defectors is
> a key motive for the explanation of cooperation. Altruistic punishment
> means that individuals punish, although the punishment is costly for them
> and yields no material gain. We show that cooperation flourishes if
> altruistic punishment is possible, and breaks down if it is ruled out. The
> evidence indicates that negative emotions towards defectors 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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