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When is it appropriate to reprimand a norm violation? The roles of anger, behavioral consequences, violation severity, and social distance


  • Kimmo Eriksson
  • Per A. Andersson
  • Pontus Strimling


Experiments on economic games typically fail to find positive reputational effects of using peer punishment of selfish behavior in social dilemmas. Theorists had expected positive reputational effects because of the potentially beneficial consequences that punishment may have on norm violators' behavior. Going beyond the game-theoretic paradigm, we used vignettes to study how various social factors influence approval ratings of a peer who reprimands a violator of a group-beneficial norm. We found that ratings declined when punishers showed anger, and this effect was mediated by perceived aggressiveness. Thus the same emotions that motivate peer punishers may make them come across as aggressive, to the detriment of their reputation. However, the negative effect of showing anger disappeared when the norm violation was sufficiently severe. Ratings of punishers were also influenced by social distance, such that it is less appropriate for a stranger than a friend to reprimand a violator. In sum, peer punisher ratings were very high for a friend reprimanding a severe norm violation, but particularly poor for a stranger showing anger at a mild norm violation. We found no effect on ratings of whether the reprimand had the beneficial consequence of changing the violator's behavior. Our findings provide insight into how peer punishers can avoid negative reputational effects. They also point to the importance of going beyond economic games when studying peer punishment.

Suggested Citation

  • Kimmo Eriksson & Per A. Andersson & Pontus Strimling, 2017. "When is it appropriate to reprimand a norm violation? The roles of anger, behavioral consequences, violation severity, and social distance," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 12(4), pages 396-407, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:12:y:2017:i:4:p:396-407

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
    2. Sunstein, Cass R & Schkade, David A & Kahneman, Daniel, 2000. "Do People Want Optimal Deterrence?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 237-253, January.
    3. Axelrod, Robert, 1986. "An Evolutionary Approach to Norms," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 80(4), pages 1095-1111, December.
    4. Matthias Cinyabuguma & Talbot Page & Louis Putterman, 2006. "Can second-order punishment deter perverse punishment?," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 9(3), pages 265-279, September.
    5. Eriksson, Kimmo & Cownden, Daniel & Ehn, Micael & Strimling, Pontus, 2014. "'Altruistic' and 'Antisocial' Punishers are One and the Same," Review of Behavioral Economics, now publishers, vol. 1(3), pages 209-221, May.
    6. Baron, Jonathan & Ritov, Ilana, 1993. "Intuitions about Penalties and Compensation in the Context of Tort Law," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 7(1), pages 17-33, August.
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