Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Co-operation, punishment and revenge

07.03.2008
Research from The University of Nottingham has shed new light on the way in which people co-operate for the common good — and what happens when they don’t.

In a new international study of 16 countries, published in the prestigious journal Science, economists studied the extent to which some people will sacrifice personal gain to benefit the wider public, while ‘freeloaders’ try to take advantage of their generosity.

Marked national differences arose when freeloaders were punished for putting their own interests ahead of the common good. And whether they accepted their punishment or retaliated in kind depended on what kind of society they lived in, the researchers found.

In countries like the USA, Switzerland and the UK, freeloaders accepted their punishment and became much more co-operative. But in countries based on more authoritarian and parochial social institutions such as Oman, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Russia, the freeloaders took revenge — retaliating against those who had punished them.

Co-operation for the common good plummeted as a result.

In societies where the modern ethic of co-operation with unrelated strangers is less familiar and the rule of law is perceived to be weak, revenge is more common and co-operation suffers, the study found.

Economists are keen to understand the decision-making processes behind co-operation, as working together for the common good is crucial for progress in any society — not least for effectively addressing big issues such as recycling and tackling climate change.

Professor Simon Gaechter and Dr Benedikt Herrmann at The University of Nottingham and Dr Christian Thoni at the University of St Gallen, Switzerland, studied the behaviour of people in 16 cities around the world, from Boston and Bonn to Riyadh, Minsk, Nottingham, Seoul and others. Volunteers played a ‘public goods’ game in which they were given tokens and told they could either keep them all for themselves, or put it into a common ‘pot’ that would yield extra interest that would be shared out equally among all players.

If all volunteers pooled their money then all would come out with more at the end of the game. But if individuals chose to keep the money for themselves — and not contribute anything — they could keep all of it and also benefit from the generosity of others, by sharing in the pooled interest.

Levels of co-operation were remarkably similar across all 16 nations. However, behaviour changed dramatically when everyone’s contributions were revealed — and players were given the ability to ‘punish’ other players. Players could punish each other by taking tokens away from each other, although this option cost the punisher a token as well. As previous studies have shown, players were willing to part with a token of their own in order to punish low investors or freeloaders.

But the Science study also uncovered a new phenomenon. In subsequent rounds of the game, the freeloaders took revenge and hit back at their higher-paying counterparts in what is described as ‘anti-social punishment’. Or at least, they did in some cities — most notably in more traditional societies based on authoritarian and parochial social institutions such as Muscat in Oman, Athens, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Samara in Russia, Minsk in Belarus, Istanbul, Seoul and Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine. Players in these cities showed the highest levels of ‘anti-social punishment’.

The ultimate effect of this is to decrease co-operation between individuals, bringing down contributions and earnings to very low levels.

In other cities — most notably Boston in the US, Melbourne, Nottingham, St Gallen and Zurich in Switzerland, Chengdu in China, Bonn and Copenhagen — this occurred much less often and only freeloaders tended to get punished. These eight cities saw the least ‘antisocial punishment’ meted out, and earnings in the game increased over time.

Simon Gaechter, Professor of the Psychology of Economic Decision-Making at The University of Nottingham, said: “To our knowledge this is the largest cross-cultural difference in experimental games that has been carried out in the developed world.

“Our results correlate with other survey data in particular measures of social norms of civic co-operation and rule of law in these same societies. The findings suggest that in societies where public co-operation is ingrained and people trust their law enforcement institutions, revenge is generally shunned. But in societies where the modern ethic of co-operation with unrelated strangers is less familiar and the rule of law is weak, revenge is more common.

“There are numerous examples in everyday life of situations where co-operation is the best option but there are incentives to take a free ride, such as recycling, neighbourhood watch, voting maintaining the local environment, tackling climate change, and so on. We need to understand why people behave in this way because co-operation is very strongly inhibited in the presence of anti-social punishment.”

Norms of civic co-operation cover general attitudes to the law, for example whether or not citizens think it is acceptable to dodge taxes or flout laws. In societies where this behaviour is widespread and the rule of law is perceived to be ineffective — ie. if criminal acts frequently go unpunished — anti-social punishment is more common.

In a commentary in the same edition of Science, Professor Herbert Gintis of the Santa Fe Institute said: “Anti-social punishment was rare in the most democratic societies and very common otherwise.

“Using the World Democracy Audit evaluation of countries’ performance in political rights, civil liberties, press freedom and corruption, the top six performers among the countries studied were also in the lowest seven for anti-social punishment. These were the USA, UK, Germany, Denmark, Australia and Switzerland.”

He adds: “Their results suggest that the success of democratic market societies may depend critically upon moral virtues as well as material interests, so the depiction of civil society as the sphere of ‘naked self-interest’ is radically incorrect.”

Emma Thorne | alfa
Further information:
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Amazingly flexible: Learning to read in your thirties profoundly transforms the brain
26.05.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making Waves

Computer scientists use wave packet theory to develop realistic, detailed water wave simulations in real time. Their results will be presented at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference.

Think about the last time you were at a lake, river, or the ocean. Remember the ripples of the water, the waves crashing against the rocks, the wake following...

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nanostructures taste the rainbow

29.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technique unveils 'matrix' inside tissues and tumors

29.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Cystic fibrosis alters the structure of mucus in airways

29.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>