July 25, 2006

Moralistic punishment in front of an audience

Evolution and Human Behavior (Article in Press)

Audience effects on moralistic punishmentstar

Robert Kurzban et al.


Punishment has been proposed as being central to two distinctively human phenomena: cooperation in groups and morality. Here we investigate moralistic punishment, a behavior designed to inflict costs on another individual in response to a perceived moral violation. There is currently no consensus on which evolutionary model best accounts for this phenomenon in humans. Models that turn on individuals' cultivating reputations as moralistic punishers clearly predict that psychological systems should be designed to increase punishment in response to information that one's decisions to punish will be known by others. We report two experiments in which we induce participants to commit moral violations and then present third parties with the opportunity to pay to punish wrongdoers. Varying conditions of anonymity, we find that the presence of an audience—even if only the experimenter—causes an increase in moralistic punishment.


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