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Has punishment played a role in the evolution of cooperation? A critical review

  • Nicolas Baumard

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    In the past decade, experiments on altruistic punishment have played a central role in the study of the evolution of cooperation. By showing that people are ready to incur a cost to punish cheaters and that punishment help to stabilise cooperation, these experiments have greatly contributed to the rise of group selection theory. However, despite its experimental robustness, it is not clear whether altruistic punishment really exists. Here, I review the anthropological literature and show that hunter-gatherers rarely punish cheaters. Instead, they avoid dealing with them and switch to other partners. I suggest that these data are better explained by individual selection, and in particular by partner choice models, in which individuals are in competition to be recruited by cooperative partners. I discuss two apparent problems for partner choice theories: large-scale cooperation and punishments in economic games. I suggest that rather than favouring group selection theory, these two phenomena provide evidence in favour of individual selection: (1) people produce large-scale cooperation through institutions in which punishment is not altruistic but rewarded on an individual basis; (2) punishment in experimental games can be explained without altruism and is indeed often better explained by individual interests. Copyright Springer-Verlag 2010

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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s11299-010-0079-9
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    Article provided by Springer & Fondazione Rosselli in its journal Mind & Society.

    Volume (Year): 9 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 2 (December)
    Pages: 171-192

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    Handle: RePEc:spr:minsoc:v:9:y:2010:i:2:p:171-192
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    1. Talbot Page & Louis Putterman & Bulent Unel, 2005. "Voluntary Association in Public Goods Experiments: Reciprocity, Mimicry and Efficiency," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(506), pages 1032-1053, October.
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    3. Bolton Gary E. & Zwick Rami, 1995. "Anonymity versus Punishment in Ultimatum Bargaining," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 95-121, July.
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    6. 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 237-53, January.
    7. John Tooby & Leda Cosmides & Michael E. Price, 2006. "Cognitive adaptations for n-person exchange: the evolutionary roots of organizational behavior," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(2-3), pages 103-129.
    8. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2004. "Social norms and human cooperation," Macroeconomics 0409026, EconWPA.
    9. Matthias Cinyabuguma & Talbot Page & Louis Putterman, 2004. "On Perverse and Second-Order Punishment in Public Goods Experiments with Decentralized Sanctioning," Working Papers 2004-12, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    10. Rand, David Gertler & Dreber, Anna & Fudenberg, Drew & Ellingson, Tore & Nowak, Martin A., 2009. "Positive Interactions Promote Public Cooperation," Scholarly Articles 3804483, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    11. Johnson, Tim & Dawes, Christopher T. & Fowler, James H. & McElreath, Richard & Smirnov, Oleg, 2009. "The role of egalitarian motives in altruistic punishment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 102(3), pages 192-194, March.
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