Building the Leviathan : voluntary centralisation of punishment power sustains cooperation in humans

J. Gross, Z.Z. Méder, S. Okamoto-Barth, A.M. Riedl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

The prevalence of cooperation among humans is puzzling because cooperators can be exploited by free riders. Peer punishment has been suggested as a solution to this puzzle, but cumulating evidence questions its robustness in sustaining cooperation. Amongst others, punishment fails when it is not powerful enough, or when it elicits counter-punishment. Existing research, however, has ignored that the distribution of punishment power can be the result of social interactions. We introduce a novel experiment in which individuals can transfer punishment power to others. We find that while decentralised peer punishment fails to overcome free riding, the voluntary transfer of punishment power enables groups to sustain cooperation. This is achieved by non-punishing cooperators empowering those who are willing to punish in the interest of the group. Our results show how voluntary power centralisation can efficiently sustain cooperation, which could explain why hierarchical power structures are widespread among animals and humans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20767
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2016

Keywords

  • PUBLIC-GOODS
  • ALTRUISTIC PUNISHMENT
  • ANTISOCIAL PUNISHMENT
  • INDIRECT RECIPROCITY
  • SOCIAL DILEMMAS
  • PEER PUNISHMENT
  • EVOLUTION
  • PROVISION
  • SANCTIONS
  • RETALIATION

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