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Altruistic punishment does not increase with the severity of norm violations in the field

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  • Loukas Balafoutas
  • Nikos Nikiforakis
  • Bettina Rockenbach

Abstract

The degree of human cooperation among strangers is a major evolutionary puzzle. A prominent explanation is that cooperation maintained because many individuals have a predisposition to punish those violating group-beneficial norms. A critical condition for cooperation to evolve in evolutionary models is that punishment increases with the severity of the violation. Here we present evidence from a field experiment with real-life interactions that, unlike in lab experiments, altruistic punishment does not increase with the severity of the violation, regardless of whether it is direct (confronting a violator) or indirect (withholding help). We also document growing concerns for counter-punishment as the severity of the violation increases, indicating that the marginal cost of direct punishment increases with the severity of violations. The evidence suggests that altruistic punishment may not provide appropriate incentives to deter large violations. Our findings thus offer a rationale for the emergence of formal institutions for prompting large-scale cooperation among strangers.

Suggested Citation

  • Loukas Balafoutas & Nikos Nikiforakis & Bettina Rockenbach, 2016. "Altruistic punishment does not increase with the severity of norm violations in the field," Natural Field Experiments 00638, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00638
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Laurent Denant-Boemont & David Masclet & Charles Noussair, 2007. "Punishment, counterpunishment and sanction enforcement in a social dilemma experiment," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 33(1), pages 145-167, October.
    2. Balafoutas, Loukas & Nikiforakis, Nikos, 2012. "Norm enforcement in the city: A natural field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(8), pages 1773-1785.
    3. David Masclet & Charles Noussair & Steven Tucker & Marie-Claire Villeval, 2003. "Monetary and Nonmonetary Punishment in the Voluntary Contributions Mechanism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 366-380, March.
    4. Fudenberg, Drew & Dreber, Anna & Rand, David G. & Nowak, Martin, 2008. "Winners Don't Punish," Scholarly Articles 2252594, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    5. Nikiforakis, Nikos, 2008. "Punishment and counter-punishment in public good games: Can we really govern ourselves," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(1-2), pages 91-112, February.
    6. 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.
    7. Samuel Bowles & Astrid Hopfensitz, 2000. "The Co-evolution of Individual Behaviors and Social Institutions," Working Papers 00-12-073, Santa Fe Institute.
    8. Nikiforakis, Nikos & Noussair, Charles N. & Wilkening, Tom, 2012. "Normative conflict and feuds: The limits of self-enforcement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(9-10), pages 797-807.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cristina Bicchieri & Eugen Dimant & Erte Xiao, 2017. "Deviant or Wrong? The Effects of Norm Information on the Efficacy of Punishment," Discussion Papers 2017-14, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.

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