Dominance, Aggression and Public Goods Investment: Explaining Anti-Social Punishment

06.11.2012 - 18:15
Location : 
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Type of Event : 
AB A-Kolloquium
Dr. Joanna Bryson
Lecturer affiliation: 
University of Bath/MZES

Why do some people punish those who contribute to the punisher's own wealth? And what determines their propensity for doing so? Herrmann, Thöni & Gächter (Science, 2008) showed that individuals in Southern Europe (Athens, Istanbul), the Middle East (Riyadh, Samara) and the former Soviet Union (Muscat, Minsk, Dnipropetrovs'k) are more likely to punish those who contribute more to the public good than themselves, while subjects from Northern Europe (Bonn, Copenhagen, Zurich, St. Gallen, Nottingham, Boston (USA)) or the Far East (Seoul, Chengdu, Melbourne) are less likely to do this. Their evidence came from a series of behavioural economics experiments – public goods games – conducted on undergraduates attending regionally-leading universities. In this talk I present evidence that such "anti-social punishment" may be part of a distributed mechanism for regulating public goods investment to levels sensible for a locality given its political and socio-economic context. Behavioural economics constructs laboratory situations where the advantages of public goods are limitless, but in the real world where the heuristic strategies underlying social behaviour are learned and evolved, over-investment in a public good is a real possibility. Previous studies of the role of punishment in public goods games (e.g. Fehr & Gächter 2000, 2002) had suggested that the altruistic punishment of free riders might explain human cooperation. However, our examination of Herrmann et al's data shows that altruistic punishment and free riding are relatively invariant across cultures, while mixed strategies that include anti-social punishment vary, and better correspond to the correlations with GDP and the rule of law found by Herrmann et al. We present an agent-based model where the total level of public goods production is determined by a mixed population of over & under producers. The proportions of individuals playing each of these strategies is proximately controlled via punishment, which is in turn driven by psychological assessments of in-group / out-group status. We assume that these, in turn, are based on individuals' (probably implicit) perception of affiliation based on recent local economic outcomes. We believe that this mechanism may be an agile, distributed mechanism for detecting and responding to changes in opportunities for mutual benefit via public goods investment.