Punishment sustains large-scale cooperation in prestate warfare

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

148 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Understanding cooperation and punishment in small-scale societies is crucial for explaining the origins of human cooperation. We studied warfare among the Turkana, a politically uncentralized, egalitarian, nomadic pastoral society in East Africa. Based on a representative sample of 88 recent raids, we show that the Turkana sustain costly cooperation in combat at a remarkably large scale, at least in part, through punishment of free-riders. Raiding parties comprised several hundred warriors and participants are not kin or day-to-day interactants. Warriors incur substantial risk of death and produce collective benefits. Cowardice and desertions occur, and are punished by community-imposed sanctions, including collective corporal punishment and fines. Furthermore, Turkana norms governing warfare benefit the ethnolinguistic group, a population of a half-million people, at the expense of smaller social groupings. These results challenge current views that punishment is unimportant in small-scale societies and that human cooperation evolved in small groups of kin and familiar individuals. Instead, these results suggest that cooperation at the larger scale of ethnolinguistic units enforced by third-party sanctions could have a deep evolutionary history in the human species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11375-11380
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume108
Issue number28
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 12 2011
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Punishment
Eastern Africa
Population Groups
History
Warfare

Keywords

  • Collective action
  • Cultural group selection
  • Parochialism
  • Pastoralists
  • Public goods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

@article{cdc3ba1a101a4910b270cb764960d308,
title = "Punishment sustains large-scale cooperation in prestate warfare",
abstract = "Understanding cooperation and punishment in small-scale societies is crucial for explaining the origins of human cooperation. We studied warfare among the Turkana, a politically uncentralized, egalitarian, nomadic pastoral society in East Africa. Based on a representative sample of 88 recent raids, we show that the Turkana sustain costly cooperation in combat at a remarkably large scale, at least in part, through punishment of free-riders. Raiding parties comprised several hundred warriors and participants are not kin or day-to-day interactants. Warriors incur substantial risk of death and produce collective benefits. Cowardice and desertions occur, and are punished by community-imposed sanctions, including collective corporal punishment and fines. Furthermore, Turkana norms governing warfare benefit the ethnolinguistic group, a population of a half-million people, at the expense of smaller social groupings. These results challenge current views that punishment is unimportant in small-scale societies and that human cooperation evolved in small groups of kin and familiar individuals. Instead, these results suggest that cooperation at the larger scale of ethnolinguistic units enforced by third-party sanctions could have a deep evolutionary history in the human species.",
keywords = "Collective action, Cultural group selection, Parochialism, Pastoralists, Public goods",
author = "Sarah Mathew and Robert Boyd",
year = "2011",
month = "7",
day = "12",
doi = "10.1073/pnas.1105604108",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "108",
pages = "11375--11380",
journal = "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America",
issn = "0027-8424",
number = "28",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Punishment sustains large-scale cooperation in prestate warfare

AU - Mathew, Sarah

AU - Boyd, Robert

PY - 2011/7/12

Y1 - 2011/7/12

N2 - Understanding cooperation and punishment in small-scale societies is crucial for explaining the origins of human cooperation. We studied warfare among the Turkana, a politically uncentralized, egalitarian, nomadic pastoral society in East Africa. Based on a representative sample of 88 recent raids, we show that the Turkana sustain costly cooperation in combat at a remarkably large scale, at least in part, through punishment of free-riders. Raiding parties comprised several hundred warriors and participants are not kin or day-to-day interactants. Warriors incur substantial risk of death and produce collective benefits. Cowardice and desertions occur, and are punished by community-imposed sanctions, including collective corporal punishment and fines. Furthermore, Turkana norms governing warfare benefit the ethnolinguistic group, a population of a half-million people, at the expense of smaller social groupings. These results challenge current views that punishment is unimportant in small-scale societies and that human cooperation evolved in small groups of kin and familiar individuals. Instead, these results suggest that cooperation at the larger scale of ethnolinguistic units enforced by third-party sanctions could have a deep evolutionary history in the human species.

AB - Understanding cooperation and punishment in small-scale societies is crucial for explaining the origins of human cooperation. We studied warfare among the Turkana, a politically uncentralized, egalitarian, nomadic pastoral society in East Africa. Based on a representative sample of 88 recent raids, we show that the Turkana sustain costly cooperation in combat at a remarkably large scale, at least in part, through punishment of free-riders. Raiding parties comprised several hundred warriors and participants are not kin or day-to-day interactants. Warriors incur substantial risk of death and produce collective benefits. Cowardice and desertions occur, and are punished by community-imposed sanctions, including collective corporal punishment and fines. Furthermore, Turkana norms governing warfare benefit the ethnolinguistic group, a population of a half-million people, at the expense of smaller social groupings. These results challenge current views that punishment is unimportant in small-scale societies and that human cooperation evolved in small groups of kin and familiar individuals. Instead, these results suggest that cooperation at the larger scale of ethnolinguistic units enforced by third-party sanctions could have a deep evolutionary history in the human species.

KW - Collective action

KW - Cultural group selection

KW - Parochialism

KW - Pastoralists

KW - Public goods

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=79961006798&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=79961006798&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1073/pnas.1105604108

DO - 10.1073/pnas.1105604108

M3 - Article

VL - 108

SP - 11375

EP - 11380

JO - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

JF - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

SN - 0027-8424

IS - 28

ER -