Social norms and cultural diversity in the development of third-party punishment

Bailey R House, Patricia Kanngiesser, H Clark Barrett, Süheyla Yilmaz, Andrew Marcus Smith, Carla Sebastian-Enesco, Alejandro Erut, Joan B Silk

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Human cooperation is likely supported by our tendency to punish selfishness in others. Social norms play an important role in motivating third-party punishment, and also in explaining societal differences in prosocial behavior. However, there has been little work directly linking social norms to the development of third-party punishment across societies. In this study, we explored the impact of normative information on the development of third-party punishment in 603 children aged 4-14 years, across six diverse societies. Children began to perform third-party punishment during middle childhood, and the developmental trajectories of this behavior were similar across societies. We also found that social norms began to influence the likelihood of performing third-party punishment during middle childhood in some of these societies. Norms specifying the punishment of selfishness were generally more influential than norms specifying the punishment of prosocial behavior. These findings support the view that third-party punishment of selfishness is important in all societies, and its development is shaped by a shared psychology for responding to normative information. Yet, the results also highlight the important role that children’s prior knowledge of local norms may play in explaining societal variation in the development of both third-party punishment and prosociality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20192794
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1925
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2020

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  • Adolescent
  • Altruism
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation
  • Probability
  • Punishment/psychology
  • Social Norms

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