Why people punish defectors: Weak conformist transmission can stabilize costly enforcement of norms in cooperative dilemmas

Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

418 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this paper, we present a cultural evolutionary model in which norms for cooperation and punishment are acquired via two cognitive mechanisms: (1) payoff-biased transmission - a tendency to copy the most successful individual; and (2) conformist transmission - a tendency to copy the most frequent behavior in the population. We first show that if a finite number of punishment stages is permitted (e.g. two stages of punishment occur if some individuals punish people who fail to punish non-cooperators), then an arbitrarily small amount of conformist transmission will stabilize cooperative behavior by stabilizing punishment at some n-th stage. We then explain how, once cooperation is stabilized in one group, it may spread through a multi-group population via cultural group selection. Finally, once cooperation is prevalent, we show how prosocial genes favoring cooperation and punishment may invade in the wake of cultural group selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Volume208
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 7 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics

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