Sociology Index


Retribution, Penology, Criminology, Operant Conditioning, Classical Conditioning

Punishment is a negative sanction imposed on the violator of a system of rules and imposed by an authorized agent of that system of rules. The criminal courts can impose punishment on people for their violations of criminal law. The referee can impose punishment on those who violate the rules of a game of hockey. The principal can impose punishment on students who violate rules of the school.

The evolution of altruistic punishment
Both laboratory and field data suggest that people punish noncooperators even in one-shot interactions. Although such "altruistic punishment" may explain the high levels of cooperation in human societies, it creates an evolutionary puzzle: existing models suggest that altruistic cooperation among nonrelatives is evolutionarily stable only in small groups.

Thus, applying such models to the evolution of altruistic punishment leads to the prediction that people will not incur costs to punish others to provide benefits to large groups of nonrelatives. However, here we show that an important asymmetry between altruistic cooperation and altruistic punishment allows altruistic punishment to evolve in populations engaged in one-time, anonymous interactions.

This process allows both altruistic punishment and altruistic cooperation to be maintained even when groups are large and other parameter values approximate conditions that characterize cultural evolution in the small-scale societies in which humans lived for most of our prehistory. - Robert Boyd, Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, and Peter J. Richerson

Altruistic punishment and the origin of cooperation 
James H. Fowler, Department of Political Science, University of California
Edited by Henry C. Harpending, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT.
How did human cooperation evolve? Recent evidence shows that many people are willing to engage in altruistic punishment, voluntarily paying a cost to punish noncooperators. Although this behavior helps to explain how cooperation can persist, it creates an important puzzle. If altruistic punishment provides benefits to nonpunishers and is costly to punishers, then how could it evolve? Drawing on recent insights from voluntary public goods games, I present a simple evolutionary model in which altruistic punishers can enter and will always come to dominate a population of contributors, defectors, and nonparticipants. The model suggests that the cycle of strategies in voluntary public goods games does not persist in the presence of punishment strategies. It also suggests that punishment can only enforce payoff-improving strategies, contrary to a widely cited "folk theorem" result that suggests that punishment can allow the evolution of any strategy.

Costly Punishment Across Human Societies 
Joseph Henrich, Richard McElreath, Abigail Barr, Jean Ensminger, Clark Barrett, Alexander Bolyanatz, Juan Camilo Cardenas, Michael Gurven, Edwins Gwako, Natalie Henrich, Carolyn Lesorogol, Frank Marlowe, David Tracer, John Ziker 
Recent behavioral experiments aimed at understanding the evolutionary foundations of human cooperation have suggested that a willingness to engage in costly punishment, even in one-shot situations, may be part of human psychology and a key element in understanding our sociality. However, because most experiments have been confined to students in industrialized societies, generalizations of these insights to the species have necessarily been tentative. Here, experimental results from 15 diverse populations show that (i) all populations demonstrate some willingness to administer costly punishment as unequal behavior increases, (ii) the magnitude of this punishment varies substantially across populations, and (iii) costly punishment positively covaries with altruistic behavior across populations.

The Neural Basis of Altruistic Punishment - Dominique J. F. de Quervain, Urs Fischbacher, Valerie Treyer, Melanie Schellhammer, Ulrich Schnyder, Alfred Buck, Ernst Fehr 
Many people voluntarily incur costs to punish violations of social norms. Evolutionary models and empirical evidence indicate that such altruistic punishment has been a decisive force in the evolution of human cooperation. We used H2 15O positron emission tomography to examine the neural basis for altruistic punishment of defectors in an economic exchange. Subjects could punish defection either symbolically or effectively. Symbolic punishment did not reduce the defector's economic payoff, whereas effective punishment did reduce the payoff. We scanned the subjects' brains while they learned about the defector's abuse of trust and determined the punishment. Effective punishment, as compared with symbolic punishment, activated the dorsal striatum, which has been implicated in the processing of rewards that accrue as a result of goal-directed actions.