Is punishment as effective as we think?

December 27, 2017, Hokkaido University
In the first group (Well-mixed) where the opponents were reshuffled each round, defectors prevailed over the course of 50 rounds. In the second group (Network reciprocity) where the opponents remained the same for the 50 rounds enabling them to identify cooperative neighbors, the cooperative cluster survived. In the third group (Network reciprocity with punishment), the option to punish opponents failed to boost cooperation. Credit: Hokkaido University

A game to study human behavior has shown punishment is an ineffective means for promoting cooperation among players. The result has implications for understanding how cooperation has evolved to have a formative role in human societies.

Human societies maintain their stability by forming cooperative partnerships. But, cooperation often comes at a cost. For example, a person taking time to raise the alarm in order to alert other members of a group to impending danger could be losing valuable time to save oneself. It is unclear why natural selection favors cooperativeness among individuals who are inherently selfish.

In theoretical studies, punishment is often seen as a means to coerce people into being more cooperative. To examine such theory, a team of international researchers led by Marko Jusup of Hokkaido University in Japan and Zhen Wang of Northwestern Polytechnical University in China has conducted a "social dilemma experiment." The team investigated if providing punishment as an option helps improve the overall level of cooperation in an unchanging network of individuals.

They used a version of the commonly employed "prisoner's dilemma" . Two hundred and twenty-five students in China were organized into three trial groups and played 50 rounds each of the game.

In group one, every student played with two opponents which changed every round. The students could choose between "cooperate" or "defect", and were given based on the combined choices made. If a student and the two opponents chose "defect," the student gained zero points. If they all chose "cooperate," the student gained four points. If only a student chose to defect while the other two chose to cooperate, the gain for the was eight points.

The second group was similar to the first one in every aspect except that the people playing the game with each other remained the same for the duration of the 50 rounds, enabling them to learn each other's characteristics.

In the third group, players also remained the same. However, a new option, "punish," was introduced. Choosing punishment led to a small reduction in points for the punisher and a larger reduction of points for the punishees.

At the end of the game, overall points were counted and the students were given monetary compensation based on the number of points won.

The expectation is that, as individuals play more with the same opponents over several rounds, they see the benefit of cooperating in order to gain more points. Introducing punishment as an option is basically saying: if you don't cooperate with me, I'll punish you. In theory, it is expected that applying this option would lead to more cooperation.

The researchers found that players in the constantly changing groups cooperated much less (4%) than those in the static groups (38%), where they were able to establish which players were willing to cooperate and thus gain a larger average financial payoff for all involved.

Surprisingly, however, adding punishment as an option did not improve the level of cooperation (37%). The final financial payoffs in this trial group were also, on average, significantly less than those gained by players in the static group. Interestingly, less defection was seen in the punishment group when compared to the static ; some players replaced defection with punishment.

"While the implied message when punishing someone is 'I want you to be cooperative,' the immediate effect is more consistent with the message 'I want to hurt you,'" write the researchers in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Punishment seems to have an overall demoralizing effect, as individuals who get punished on multiple occasions may see a good chunk of their total payoff vanish in a short period of time, explain the researchers. This could lead players to lose interest in the game and play the remaining rounds with less of a rational strategy. The availability of punishment as an option also seems to reduce the incentive to choose cooperation over competition.

Why, then, is so pervasive in ? "It could be that human brains are hardwired to derive pleasure from punishing competitors," says Jusup. "However, it is more likely that, in real life, a dominant side has the ability to punish without provoking retaliation," adds Wang.

Although the study provides valuable insights into how arises in human society, the team advises it would be unwise to extrapolate the implications of their study far beyond the experimental setting.

Explore further: Tax evaders prefer institutional punishment

More information: Xuelong Li et al. Punishment diminishes the benefits of network reciprocity in social dilemma experiments, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1707505115

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37 comments

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chemhaznet1
1.4 / 5 (10) Dec 27, 2017
Such a huge surprise that a study done in a communist country confirms that everyone works better together when they don't defect. Anyone see something wrong with that sentence?
pntaylor
1.1 / 5 (7) Dec 27, 2017
Yes. In China, anyone with any sense will never even use the word defect, let alone check that box, on a piece paper or be in a group where someone else is doing it, science or not.
PTTG
5 / 5 (7) Dec 27, 2017
In this thread: readers assume that a study taking place in china used English words.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (9) Dec 27, 2017
You guys are so freaking dumb, go back to breitbart
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (2) Dec 27, 2017
Among other things, it is curious the "researchers" defining self sacrifice of warning others of danger as an act worthy of punishment. Punishment is usually the outgrowth of craven, self centered actions. For many, the good for others that a willingness to engage in self sacrifice can bring is more than enough reward. Many those kind of considerations are alien to the "researchers".
They don't, as with most such "researchers", don't seem to see that these games and such are not necessarily similar to what can be called real life. Just losing game money or places on a board does not have the same impact for many that a spanking, losing real money or spending time in prison might. Do the "researchers" understand this, or are they individuals bereft of so many facets of so many what can be called normal people who are pretending to carry out "studies" of human behavior?
Whydening Gyre
1 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2017
Chemhaznet; "Such a huge surprise that a study done in a communist country confirms that everyone works better together when they don't defect. Anyone see something wrong with that sentence?"

Pntaylor; "Yes. In China, anyone with any sense will never even use the word defect, let alone check that box, on a piece paper or be in a group where someone else is doing it, science or not."

You two need to study Geography more. Hokkaido is Japan, NOT China.

JP.
These researchers are prob'ly millenials who've never had to survive on their own without the support of parents or a social network.. They missed out on that experience, apparently...

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 27, 2017
"Human societies maintain their stability by forming cooperative partnerships. But, cooperation often comes at a cost. For example, a person taking time to raise the alarm in order to alert other members of a group to impending danger could be losing valuable time to save oneself. It is unclear why natural selection favors cooperativeness among individuals who are inherently selfish."

TRIBALISM. Use the proper word to explain the condition.

"There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection" (Darwin, 1871)
http://rint.recht...rid2.htm

-The explanation has been around for 2 centuries and more.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Dec 27, 2017
"Cronin's (1991) account:
Darwin starts by considering competition between groups. If a group that has a high proportion of unselfishly devoted members comes into conflict with a group that has a high proportion of selfish members, it is easy to see that the group of altruists will triumph. Their discipline, fidelity, courage and other such qualities will soon ensure victory."

-Internal altruism IN CONJUNCTION WITH external animosity. A uniquely human form of group selection. Tribalism explains human behavior where simple animal evolution leaves off.

We are a combination of the 2; natural selection and unnatural domestication. Just like your dog.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2017
Punishment is usually the outgrowth of craven, self centered actions
Thanks julian for a very apt if restrained description of your god, the beast who will torture you forever just because you chose to believe the evidence that he himself left strewn about, that he can not and does not exist.

The god of infinite mercy and goodness nevertheless decided to flush the entire world rather than release his book a few millenia earlier.

"... for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." exo20

-Hate? Mere skepticism is grounds for the cruelest and most unusual of punishments, not only for you but your kids, grandkids et al.

Sure, god can break his commandments as he sees fit. But he does seem to favor breaking them, any and all of them, and often in the most horrific of ways.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (2) Dec 27, 2017
Give me a break. No one who knows anything thinks that punishment is that effective.

It's good for those who get to feel better for doing the punishing....
ddaye
5 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2017
Give me a break. No one who knows anything thinks that punishment is that effective.

Perhaps their audience is those who don't know anything, the group with the most influence historically.
Porgie
1 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2017
Yes! It is!
FM79
not rated yet Dec 28, 2017
In this thread: readers assume that a study taking place in china used English words.


Look at the affiliations, the study was clearly conducted in China or at least mainly there.
FM79
1 / 5 (4) Dec 28, 2017
Punishment is usually the outgrowth of craven, self centered actions
Thanks julian for a very apt if restrained description of your god, the beast who will torture you forever just because you chose to believe the evidence that he himself left strewn about, that he can not and does not exist..


If you are referring to the Christian God then you are sadly mistaken. "Hell" is always been understood as being cutoff from God's love in Christianity (in spite of the very colorful imagery), and has always been seen as a voluntary action by people who go to hell.

So your argument is fundamentally a straw man and now I am skpetic about anything you say.

Bonus points for citing things out of context and attacking others. Nice.
FM79
1 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2017
Chemhaznet; "Such a huge surprise that a study done in a communist country confirms that everyone works better together when they don't defect. Anyone see something wrong with that sentence?"

Pntaylor; "Yes. In China, anyone with any sense will never even use the word defect, let alone check that box, on a piece paper or be in a group where someone else is doing it, science or not."

You two need to study Geography more. Hokkaido is Japan, NOT China.

JP.
These researchers are prob'ly millenials who've never had to survive on their own without the support of parents or a social network.. They missed out on that experience, apparently...



Yes what about the other affiliations. Four of them are in China, which are the first authors of the work. Of course in cooperation with Euro countries as well and Israel.

pntaylor
not rated yet Dec 28, 2017
@whydening Gyre: "You two need to study Geography more. Hokkaido is Japan, NOT China"

"Two hundred and twenty-five students in China were organized into three trial groups and played 50 rounds each of the game."
Bongstar420
5 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2017
LOL.
Yep. No one does drugs. Prohibition and punishment for unhealthy lifestyles is totally working
Dug
not rated yet Dec 28, 2017
Confirmation of the obvious. Punishment is only functional when practiced by authority that feels no risk of reprisal. On the other hand game theory/application doesn't necessarily adequately represent human societal dynamics.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Dec 28, 2017
If you're gonna play the game you oughtta know the rules. Punishment should be swift, hard, and infrequent, and you shouldn't associate with persons you had to punish again ever.
ThomasQuinn
4 / 5 (4) Dec 29, 2017


If you are referring to the Christian God then you are sadly mistaken. "Hell" is always been understood as being cutoff from God's love in Christianity (in spite of the very colorful imagery), and has always been seen as a voluntary action by people who go to hell.


Absolutely, patently untrue. That is a very modern (i.e. post 17th century) theological interpretation. Your use of "always", twice, reveals your lack of understanding of the historical development of theological conceptions of hell. While "being cut off of God's love" has long been a part thereof, hell was traditionally understood as punishment for those deemed "bad" by the church, not a "choice". Many branches of protestantism for most their history believed *most* people, even believers, were bound for hell because God only extended his grace to a select few he personally chose, regardless of their actions, views or sins. Catholicism believed many to be hellbound for the weight of their sins.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 29, 2017
It's good for those who get to feel better for doing the punishing...
"Vengeance is mine sayeth the lord." Xians just hope they get to watch. Although if justice is not forthcoming they enjoy doing gods will.
Hell" is always been understood as being cutoff from God's love in Christianity (in spite of the very colorful imagery), and has always been seen as a voluntary action by people who go to hell
- And why would anyone choose to have flaming pokers shoved up their ass for eternity?
hell was traditionally understood as punishment for those deemed "bad" by the church, not a "choice
And 'bad' is anyone who chooses not to believe, irrespective of their behavior. Per the first 4 commandments.
most* people, even believers, were bound for hell because God only extended his grace to a select few
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart" jer1:5

This is why Calvinists were ministers instead of priests.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Dec 29, 2017
This has nothing to do with churches or governments. It has to do with what you have to do to cooperate. That's a simple thing, not some sort of hobby horse for religionists or various forms of political "scientists" to try to parse. Do what you do and try not to piss anyone off who you'll have to deal with later seems to be the lesson.
SkyLy
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2017
"the team advises it would be unwise to extrapolate the implications of their study far beyond the experimental setting."

This. Without punishment and especially the fear of punishment, morality would be gone like a puff of smoke.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 30, 2017
Without punishment and especially the fear of punishment, morality would be gone
You dont understand what morality is. The source of morality is the tribe. It is the tribal dynamic: Internal amity with external emnity. Victimizing enemies is every bit as moral as supporting orphans and widows in your own tribe.

Tribal law - the real 10 commandments - is often reinforced by punishment. Throughout history and prehistory this was mere culling - aptly described in the bible...

"'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'" 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died." exo32

-Punishment for worshipping the golden calf. The strays removed from the gene pool, the remnants carried on.

We have been bred for our ability to conform to the tribal dynamic. Just like sheep dogs our behavior has become genetic.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 30, 2017
"the team advises it would be unwise to extrapolate the implications of their study far beyond the experimental setting."

This. Without punishment and especially the fear of punishment, morality would be gone like a puff of smoke.

And... you just described the working of bureaucracies in one sentence...
Just like sheep dogs our behavior has become genetic.

It's the messenger RNA...
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 30, 2017
What does that mean wg? Are you saying that a sheepdogs urge to herd is a decision? They're born with it.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Dec 31, 2017
This. Without punishment and especially the fear of punishment, morality would be gone like a puff of smoke.
This strikes me as being more about you than anything else. If you didn't fear punishment would you behave immorally, knowing that you risk being excluded from cooperation just when you most need it if you do?
ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet Dec 31, 2017
The researchers found that players in the constantly changing groups cooperated much less (4%) than those in the static groups


Social cohesion strikes again.

https://en.wikipe...siveness

Group cohesiveness is important for success and sadly this is something that is being undermined by current open border policies in the West.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 31, 2017
What does that mean wg? Are you saying that a sheepdogs urge to herd is a decision? They're born with it.

No. I'm saying RNA configurations can be a modified by environmental driven behaviour (learned).
And the new configurations are inheritable.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 31, 2017
What does that mean wg? Are you saying that a sheepdogs urge to herd is a decision? They're born with it.

No. I'm saying RNA configurations can be a modified by environmental driven behaviour (learned).
And the new configurations are inheritable.
So sheepdog parents are taught how to herd and the puppies are born with the herding instinct?

"So, if you bring home a corgi or a collie, will you need a flock of sheep to keep Lassie busy and happy? That depends. According to Border Collie Rescue Inc., this particular breed's herding instinct is so deep, and its working style so specific - driving a herd toward the handler rather than away from him - that it will try to round up playing children with excessive zeal, making border collies the wrong choice for most families."

-They have been unnaturally selected for the behavior over 100s of gens.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Dec 31, 2017
"Herding breeds are born with an instinctive tendency to herd.... The herding dog, also known as the stock or cattle dog, was developed to help control and direct herds of cows or sheep out to pasture or back to the barn. These dogs have a natural ability to control the movement of other, larger animals, whether by nipping at them, barking or circling around them."

It is a complex instinctive behavior just like mating or hunting, but with no use in the animal world.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 31, 2017
So sheepdog parents are taught how to herd and the puppies are born with the herding instinct?

Not so cut n dry. It does take a number of generations and practical reinforcement of a behaviour to become "instinct".
- driving a herd toward the handler rather than away from him - that it will try to round up playing children with excessive zeal, making border collies the wrong choice for most families."

My Pyrenees would "herd" the kids away from our creek, when they were young. We didn't teach her that.

-They have been unnaturally selected for the behavior over 100s of gens.

Initially, they were selected for their ability to learn a particular behavior. Eventually, after being generationally re-exposed to it, that learned behavior becomes "instinct"...
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 31, 2017
...
It is a complex instinctive behavior just like mating or hunting, but with no use in the animal world.

Of course it has use. Controlling the prey takes less energy than hunting it down...
dudester
1 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2018
I am fairly certain that when punishment involves having your livelihood taken it works. Even the threat of such a thing is compelling and wasn't unheard of in hunter gatherer groups.

The Northern Cheyenne were forbidden to ever kill another Cheyenne. But on two occasions-- when the group was going on a hunt, and when the group was picking up stakes and moving to another site, the responsibility for policing the rules during the process would be taken up by each dog soldier society in turn. Any Cheyenne found to be out of proper position during one of these extremely vulnerable times for the collective group could have their ponies taken, their dogs killed, be beaten with the wooden handles of horse whips, have their private possessions destroyed-- pipes, eagle bone pipes, etc-- everything but be killed.

This was not banishment, but anyone punished in such a way would have found it difficult to survive subsequently. It seemed to work very well, so I question these findings.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 01, 2018
Of course it has use. Controlling the prey takes less energy than hunting it down...
So provide an example. Let me help... i was watching a pair of coyotes hunting in a field one day. They were trotting parallel about 50 feet apart through the grass. It occurred to me that one might scare up a rodent which would then run toward the other. But i dont think this is quite the same as herding.

Here's something

"Social predation allows some animals to organize hunts of creatures that would easily escape a single predator; thus chimpanzees can prey upon colobus monkeys, and a cooperating group of Harris's hawks can cut off all possible escapes for a rabbit."

-So I suppose you're right that it serves a purpose for wild animals but wrong that it is something that needs to be taught.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jan 01, 2018
Animals punish as well.

"A final possibility is that cheating has led to the evolution of punishment in animal societies, and thus that uncooperative individuals have low fitness because other members of their social group punish them... punishment is generally defined as paying a cost to harm a cheating partner, for example by harassing or attacking uncooperative individuals in a social group"

And this is interesting

"in many systems, 'punishment' is probably not derived from cheating, but is the background against which cooperation first evolved"

Wow here's something else

"Complex cooperative societies often include 'helpers', non-breeding subordinates that help to raise the offspring of dominant breeders. Helpers are often closely related to the brood that they help to raise"

-which explains the purpose of post-menopausal grandmothers; and homosexuals.

Interesting study.
https://www.ncbi....4760192/
dudester
5 / 5 (1) Jan 01, 2018
I once saw three coyotes "dogging" a solitary mule deer. Only one would actively chase it at any time, nipping at the deer's hind legs as it dodged back and forth, and turned occasionally to fight. The others trotted along by the shortest distance, clearly conserving their energy. Then they took their turn. It did not take long for the bitter end to come.

Of course, by cooperating there is the trade-off of having to share the deer three or more ways. But it's obviously better than having nothing to eat at all. Besides, not many coyotes can eat a full grown deer by themselves before the other scavengers show up, a thing in no way unrelated to the parameters of evolved behavior or physical adaptation.

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