Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 1 > Issue 3

'Altruistic' and 'Antisocial' Punishers are One and the Same

Kimmo Eriksson, Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University and School of Education, Culture and Communication, Mälardalen University, Sweden, kimmo.eriksson@mdh.se Daniel Cownden, Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University, Sweden, dcownden@gmail.com Micael Ehn, Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University, Sweden, micael.ehn@gmail.com Pontus Strimling, Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University and Institute for Futures Studies, Sweden, pontusstrimling@gmail.com
 
Suggested Citation
Kimmo Eriksson, Daniel Cownden, Micael Ehn and Pontus Strimling (2014), "'Altruistic' and 'Antisocial' Punishers are One and the Same", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 1: No. 3, pp 209-221. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/105.00000009

Published: 27 May 2014
© 2014 K. Eriksson, D. Cownden, M. Ehn and P. Strimling
 
Subjects
Public Economics: Public Goods,  Economic Theory: Game Theory,  Individual Decision Making
 
Keywords
Public goodsCostly punishmentCooperationAltruism
 

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In this article:
1. Introduction
2. Methods
3. Results
4. Discussion
References

Abstract

In certain economic experiments, some participants willingly pay a cost to punish peers who contribute too little to the public good. Because such punishment can lead to improved group outcomes, this costly punishment has been conceived of as altruistic. Here, we provide evidence that individual variation in the propensity to punish low contributions is unrelated to altruism. First, individual use of punishment was uncorrelated with contribution to the public good, contrary to the hypothesis that punishers are proximally motivated by prosocial preferences. Second, individual use of punishment was positively correlated across situations where the use of punishment is typically group beneficial and situations where the use of punishment is typically group detrimental, as well as across situations of radically different strategic structures. These findings contrast sharply with the premise that the tendency to use punishment can fruitfully be regarded as an adaptation for solving social dilemmas.

DOI:10.1561/105.00000009