Altruistic Punishment and Between-Group Competition

Human Nature 23 (2):173-190 (2012)


Collective action, or the large-scale cooperation in the pursuit of public goods, has been suggested to have evolved through cultural group selection. Previous research suggests that the costly punishment of group members who do not contribute to public goods plays an important role in the resolution of collective action dilemmas. If large-scale cooperation sustained by the punishment of defectors has evolved through the mechanism of cultural group selection, two implications regarding costly punishment follow: (1) that people are more willing to punish defecting group members in a situation of intergroup competition than in a single-group social dilemma game and (2) that levels of “perverse” punishment of cooperators are not affected by intergroup competition. We find confirmation for these hypotheses. However, we find that the effect of intergroup competition on the punishment of defectors is fully explained by the stronger conditionality of punishment on expected punishment levels in the competition condition

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