Homo homini lupus? Explaining antisocial punishment

Karolina Sylwester, Benedikt Herrmann, Joanna Bryson

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Punishing group members who parasitize their own group’s resources is an almost universal human behavior, as evidenced by multiple cross-cultural and theoretical studies. Recently, researchers in social and behavioral sciences have identified a puzzling phenomenon called “antisocial punishment”: some people are willing to pay a cost to “punish” those who act in ways that benefit their shared social group. Interestingly, the expression of antisocial punishment behavior is regionally diverse and linked to the socio-psychological dimensions of local cultural values. In this review, we adopt an ecological perspective
to examine why antisocial punishment might be an advantageous strategy
for individuals in some socio-economic contexts. Drawing from research
in behavioral economics, personality, social psychology and
anthropology, we discuss the proximate mechanisms of antisocial
punishment operating at an individual level, and their consequences at
the group and cultural levels. We also consider the evolutionary
dynamics of antisocial punishment investigated with computer
simulations. We argue that antisocial punishment is an expression of
aggression, and is driven by competition for status. Our review elucidates
the possible socio-ecological underpinnings of antisocial punishment,
which may have widespread repercussions at a cultural level.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-188
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


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