Creating sanctioning norms in the lab: The influence of descriptive norms and the bad apple effect in third-party punishment

Giannis Lois*, Michele Wessa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


third-party punishment is a form of peer-to-peer sanctioning that is influenced by descriptive norms. The present study aims to investigate how aggregate peer punishment and the presence of a free rider who never punishes influences the formation of third-party punishment norms. Participants were exposed to social feedback indicating either low, high, or high & free rider peer punishment. Over time, participants conformed to average peer punishment leading to the emergence and persistence of different sanctioning norms in each group. The presence of one free rider significantly reduced the average punishment and increased the frequency of free riding behavior. These findings highlight the critical role of descriptive norms and suggest the presence of a ‘bad apple’ effect in third-party punishment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-63
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Influence
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


  • Third-party punishment
  • social norms
  • free rider
  • 'bad apple' effect

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