Homo Homini Lupus? Explaining Antisocial Punishment

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Abstract

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 sociopsychological 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 socioeconomic contexts. Drawing from research in behavioral economics, personality and social psychology, 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 socioecological underpinnings of antisocial punishment, which may have widespread repercussions at a cultural level.

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