Departmental Colloquium: Nichola Raihani (UCL): Punishment: one tool, many uses

Open to the Public
Oktober 6 u. 7
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 5:00pm
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Wednesday, June 12, 2019 - 5:00pm to 6:30pm

Punishment: one tool, many uses

Punishment involves paying a cost to harm others and is thought to operate as a tool to convert cheaters into cooperators. In stylized laboratory games, humans willingly punish their co-players, and this proclivity for punishment is frequently invoked to explain why humans are so extraordinarily cooperative. In this talk, I will critically assess the assumption that punishment is used as a tool to convert cheaters into cooperators. I will first present evidence from the cleaner fish-client mutualism, showing data that support this assumption. I will then discuss the picture in humans, which seems to be more complicated. In humans, punishment often prompts retaliation, rather than cooperation. Furthermore, punishment decisions often reflect the desire to equalise or elevate payoffs relative to targets, rather than the desire to enact revenge for harm received or to deter cheats from reoffending in future. For example, negative gossip – one obvious real-world expression of punitive sentiment - is arguably more likely to serve a competitive, rather than a deterrent function. Together, these converging strands of evidence cast serious doubts on the assumption that the sole function of punishment in humans is to convert cheating individuals into cooperators. I will outline a competing hypothesis: punishment has a competitive function, that allows punishers to equalise or elevate their own payoffs and/or status relative to targets independently of any change in the target’s behaviour. Indeed, the commonly-used 1:3 fee-to-fine ratio in experimental games is competitive by default since it costs less to inflict punishment than to receive it. Finally, I will discuss how institutions that reduce or remove the possibility that punishers are motivated by relative payoff or status concerns might offer a way to harness these competitive motives and render punishment more effective at restoring cooperation