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Punish and Perish?

  • Angelo Antoci

    (DEIR, University of Sassari)

  • Luca Zarri

    (Economics Department, University of Verona)

The evolution of large-scale cooperation among genetic strangers is a fundamental unanswered question in the social sciences. Behavioral economics has persuasively shown that so called ‘strong reciprocity’ plays a key role in accounting for the endogenous enforcement of cooperation. Insofar as strongly reciprocal players are willing to costly sanction defectors, cooperation flourishes. However, experimental evidence unambiguously indicates that not only defection and strong reciprocity, but also unconditional cooperation is a quantitatively important behavioral attitude. By referring to a prisoner’s dilemma framework where punishment (‘stick’) and rewarding (‘carrot’) options are available, here we show analytically that the presence of cooperators who don’t punish in the population makes altruistic punishment evolutionarily weak. We show that cooperation breaks down and strong reciprocity is maladaptive if costly punishment means ‘punishing defectors’ and, even more so, if it is coupled with costly rewarding of cooperators. In contrast, punishers don’t perish if cooperators, far from being rewarded, are sanctioned. These results, based on an extended notion of strong reciprocity, challenge evolutionary explanations of cooperation that overlook the ‘dark side’ of altruistic behavior.

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Paper provided by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in its series Working Papers with number 2011.64.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
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Handle: RePEc:fem:femwpa:2011.64
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  1. Abbink, Klaus & Bernd Irlenbusch & Elke Renner, 1997. "The Moonlighting Game - An Experimental Study on Reciprocity and Retribution," Discussion Paper Serie B 415, University of Bonn, Germany.
  2. Simon Gaechter & Benedikt Herrmann, 2007. "The limits of self-governance when cooperators get punished: Experimental evidence from urban and rural Russia," Discussion Papers 2007-11, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
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  4. Klaus Abbink & Jordi Brandts & Benedikt Herrmann & Henrik Orzen, 2009. "Inter-Group Conflict and Intra-Group Punishment in an Experimental Contest Game," Discussion Papers 2009-03, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
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